Track Review: “Saturn”

Published: March 27, 2017

Image result for sufjan stevens saturn

Other track reviews:  Weezer: “Feels Like Summer” (2017)  |  Double Feature: Alt-J “3WW” & Fleet Foxes “Third of May / Ōdaigahara” (2017)  |  Lorde “Green Light” (2017)  |  Depeche Mode “Where’s The Revolution” (2017)  |  Brand New “I Am A Nightmare” (2016)  |  Ariana Grande “Into You” (2016)  |  Radiohead “Burn The Witch” (2016)

In 2013, Sufjan Stevens joined up with Nico Muhly, James McAlister, and The National’s Bryce Dressner to create a composition thematically centered around our solar system (I guess he is too big for states now).  To date only performed in a live setting (the piece was debuted at Brooklyn Academy of Music over a multi-night span), it is finally being released as an official recording on June 9 via 4AD.  It’s pretty much the most hipster thing ever.  But before we get to that, the quartet has unveiled “Saturn”, the fourteenth out of seventeen songs on the track list and the album’s lead single.

Those who enjoyed Stevens’ bizarre but oddly affirming Age of Adz will likely be beside themselves with excitement on this one.  The vocals are electronically altered for the entire run time, as is the instrumental canvas.  The whole thing feels very futuristic, bombastic, and oddly warm.  Stevens may sound robotic and distant, but lines like “take this body / blood shed for you” and the repeated “tell me I’m evil” have a boomerang effect, sending you far off into the cold, dark depths of space only to circle back with distinctly human imagery.  It’s for the most part ambiguous and metaphorical, but the one idea that seeps through the matrix of computerized sounds is one of self-deprecation and woe:

Where there’s joy,
I bring you trespass
Where there’s light,
I bring you darkness
Where there’s help,
I bring affliction
Where there’s hope
I bring misfortune

Tell me I’m evil
Tell me I’m not love

Thematically, all of this figures to make more sense within the context of the full composition because as a standalone track, it does seem a bit random.  On the other hand, what are these guys  supposed to do to make this obviously about Saturn – run a distorted loop of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” in the background?  Nevertheless, “Saturn” is a mysterious piece that feels like it came from the outer reaches of space.  So to some extent, especially musically, it makes sense.

As a whole, “Saturn” is a very difficult song to judge because its value is so closely tied to whatever Planetarium ends up sounding like on June 9.  It’s not a track that stands up on its own and demands the attention of its listeners, or even very many repeated listens for that matter (which is odd, considering its over-the-top bid).  For as grandiose as it is, the piece is actually quite conspicuous – blending your standard fare electronic production with a borderline dance vibe that becomes prominent over the song’s latter half.  One suspects that if it weren’t for the name recognition of the artists surrounding the project, that it wouldn’t even be a topic of conversation right now.  The song by itself is just pretty good.  It’s potential with respect to the entire project, however, is tantalizing…to say the least.

Track Score: 3 / 5

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