To celebrate the release of their forthcoming, collaborative album Planetarium, Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly and James McAlister have launched a new song today. ‘Mercury’ is the second track to be released from Planetarium, which is set for release Friday 9 June via 4AD / Remote Control.
Planetarium unites Stevens’ vocals, McAlister’s beats, Dessner’s guitar performance, and Muhly’s instrumental compositions in a far-reaching musical journey: from lush piano ballads to rock anthems, classical cadenzas to electronic beats with Stevens’ distinctive vocals providing a centre of gravity.
The album revolves around the ideas Stevens’ lyrics explore: mythology, astrology, science, astronomy and the intricacies of human consciousness.
Planetarium began when Dutch concert hall Muziekgebouw Eindhoven commissioned Muhly to create a new piece and he enlisted friends Dessner, Stevens and McAlister, all of whom had been looking for the opportunity to collaborate on a larger scale.
After sketching the framework of the song cycle and performing the piece as a band—flanked by a string quartet and seven trombones—in various forms, the quartet put the project on hold for several years. Returning to the raw material in 2016, Stevens and McAlister reversed their typical process, taking recordings of the live show and adapting to the studio. “We had recorded all the arrangements and the live parts in a studio after our last performance,” says Stevens, “so years later when we all kind of settled down, we said, ‘let’s open Pandora’s box.’”
In the time between Planetarium’s conception and release, Muhly wrote a new viola concerto and a commission for the Metropolitan Opera; Dessner released Trouble Will Find Me with The National, toured extensively and moved to Paris; and Stevens recorded and released Carrie & Lowell and, with McAlister, toured the album worldwide.