‘A Beginner’s Mind’ Album Review

Ash Anders, Volunteer DJ

According to Metacritic.com, this album is “the debut full-length release for the collaboration between Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine was inspired by such films as All About Eve, Bring It On Again, Night of the Living Dead, Mad Max, Point Break, Silence of the Lambs, and The Thing.” The movies in this list are all pretty different, but each song on this album is tender and beautiful in its own way. 

Reach Out: This track is inspired by the film Wings of Desire, where an angel becomes human to understand what it’s like. Though the song is airy and light, the phrase “I would rather be devoured than be broken” presents much darker themes of isolation and suffering. The track has a continuous light rhythm that leads nicely into the next track. 

Lady Macbeth in Chains: This track is about the movie All About Eve, and the main character’s struggle to age peacefully as an actress. The irony apparent in this track is the melodic, beautiful background vocals and instrumentation that contrast the lyrics “Now go sleep in the bed that you made while she bled from her open wounds”. 

Back to Oz: Opening with a strong guitar rhythm, this track is quite obviously about the film The Wizard of Oz. The use of guitar and drums in this song makes it stick out more than the other tracks, as it has a particular style to it that makes it especially catchy. 

The Pillar of Souls: This track, based on Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, takes the perspective of the antagonist Pinhead. The lyrics “All the names that I’ve read in the blood of your knife” once again contrast the beauty of the vocals and instrumentation. 

You Give Death a Bad Name: Inspired by the movie Night of the Living Dead, as well as Stevens’ previous album Aporia, this track follows the theme of beautiful music around surprisingly dark lyrics, as with “Shot to the skull or a strike to the brain the cadaver on the cross, you give love a bad name”. This track also directly steals a verse from Stevens’ previous song “The Roundabouts”, which is a nice call out to some of his older music. 

Beginner’s Mind: As the namesake track of the album, it’s about the main character Bodhi from the movie Point Break. The delicate vocals and piano of this track are softer than previous tracks and create a nostalgic sound that resonates with the listener. 

Olympus: Based on the 1981 version of the movie Clash of the Titans, this track explores the myth of the Greek hero Perseus. The vocals in this track are more evenly divided between Stevens and De Augustine than other tracks but provide no less beautiful lyrics and vocal sounds. 

Murder and Crime: This track contains lyrics more sad and dark than previous tracks. The phrase “All joys were taken from your eyes as the law would abide in murder and crime” shares the depressing nature of unfair realities in our lives. Nevertheless, the vocals are still delicate and pair well with the soft instrumentation of the track. 

(This is) The Thing: The balance between the vocals and instrumentation is different in this track, making what is almost a filter sound over the vocals of Stevens. The background vocals almost sound like instruments themselves, which creates an atmospheric listen for the audience. 

It’s Your Own Body and Mind: Opening with guitar, this track also utilizes different vocal sounds than other tracks. The message of this track is also more optimistic than others, including lyrics like “Your body is a sanctuary and your body is about to be free” and “Nothing else can be taken from you, it’s your own body and mind”. The background vocals appearing during the chorus also make this an atmospheric track that envelops the listener. 

Lost in the World: This track opens with “A voice of air’s mellifluence, Draconian will, superstition,” opening to the song’s meaning of optimism and hope for the future. Despite the ominous choice of lyrics in “Well I hope you’re right, and they always do,” this track is still one about the beauty in life and the future. 

Fictional California: This track is inspired by the movie Bring It On Again, and specifically mentions it in the lyrics – “We’re gonna bring it on again, Bring it on to you hard, Our school spirit was defined by dance and drama”. Utilizing delicate sounds alongside the vocals and instrumentation, the classic airy guitar creates a fun mood for the track, reminiscent of the movie itself. 

Cimmerian Shade: Inspired by the character Buffalo Bill from the classic movie The Silence of the Lambs, this track explores the pain of being created and the want of love and compassion from others. The line “I just want you to love me, I just wanted to know myself,” reflects the themes of transphobia and gender identity seen in the movie. The phrase “Fix it all, Jonathan Demme,” also calls out the movie’s director for poorly incorporating these harmful ideas in the movie itself. 

Lacrimae: The final track of this album is much more subdued than previous tracks and sounds more melancholy as well. The definition of “Lacrimae” is “tears for things”, and it also refers simply to the tear ducts. This track is exceptionally short and sweet but brings the album to a nice close regardless. 

This album is the culmination of the beautiful work of both Stevens and De Augustine and is an overall atmospheric album for any listener. 

Spinnaker rates this album 4 out of 5 sails. 


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