After successfully navigating his way into the mainstream with 2005's epic Illinoise, ultra-prolific indie pop prince Sufjan Stevens had no intention of laying low. Instead, he released a set of Illinoise outtakes, a five-disc collection of Christmas songs, and staged a "symphonic and cinematic exploration of New York City's infamous Brooklyn-Queens Expressway" that included a self-made Super 8 mm film, a full orchestra, and a small army of hula hoopers performing live in front of a sold-out Brooklyn Academy of Music. While it could be argued that the ambitious BQE serves as the "New York" chapter in his abandoned 50 states project, it hardly fits in with the other two entries. Many pop musicians have ventured into the classical realm (David Byrne, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, to name a few), but Stevens had already been dabbling in strings, woodwinds, and horns quite admirably since his lo-fi 2000 debut. Closer to the Godfrey Reggio/Philip Glass collaboration Koyaanisqatsi than it is to Byrne's The Forest, fans of the liberal, staccato woodwinds that peppered Illinoise will find much of the BQE familiar. As always, Stevens' melodies are circular, occasionally precious, and often dissonant, but they are presented here with a maturity that will no doubt turn more than a few heads in the classical community, while simultaneously turning some away in the indie pop world. The package itself is truly impressive, boasting a highly stylized Japanese pop art-inspired jacket, a 40-page booklet, a stereoscopic 3D View-Master reel and a DVD of the Super 8 mm film that accompanied the performance. As lyrical a musician as he is, without his commanding use of language (the song cycle is entirely instrumental), the BQE loses some momentum near the end, but by then it's become clear that, as is the case with all of his projects, the term "half-assed" does not apply.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger
Track Listing - Disc 1