Sufjan Stevens is constantly pushing musical and thematic boundaries, and now he's gone fully out into the boondocks (or maybe the far reaches of the stratosphere) with his new electronic-instrumental album, Aporia.

The album streamed live on March 23rd at 3PM, and it's a 21-track collection of glitchy, meditative sonic journeys that also feel like journeys through space and time.

Most of the album comes from Stevens' jam sessions with Lowell Brams, his stepfather and business partner. "You know how it is with jamming, ninety percent of it is absolutely horrible, but if you're just lucky enough, ten percent is magic," Stevens told Pitchfork. "I just kept pulling out these little magical moments."

Stevens said the record is mostly about his relationship with Brams. It "tells a bigger story of stewardship and mentorship. He's been there since I was five," he said. "This record is a synthesis of all of that history."

The album is almost all instrumental, but in terms of song titles, things get a little out there. Not all the song titles require a dictionary or a PhD in humanities ("Climb That Mountain" is pretty self-explanatory), but many of them are references to Ancient Greek philosophy.

The first track on the album, "Ousia," most likely takes its name from the eponymous Greek philosophical term. "Ousia" was used by Plato and Aristotle to describe the philosophical concepts of "essence" or "substance"—essentially the "stuff" that makes up all things. In Christian philosophy, the term refers to "divine essence" specifically, and since we know that Sufjan songs are always either gay or about god, there's a good chance this song might be an ode to some sort of divine being.

"Palinodes" refers to a kind of poem wherein the author retracts or disavows something stated in a previous poem. "Ataraxia" is a fundamental tenet of Pyrrhonism and Stoicism, meaning "equanimity" or "tranquility" or freedom from struggle. Many Pyrrhonists believe it can only be brought about by another process—"Eudaimonia," the name of the 20th song on the album, which is a state of ultimate happiness and purpose.

The album's title, Aporia, means doubt, uncertainty, or puzzlement. So perhaps the whole album is about Sufjan and Lowell vacillating between Ancient Greek philosophies, trying to find their purposes among life's murkiness. Or maybe it has another meaning unique to Sufjan's mind, something connected to fatherhood and his absent mother and ancient Greek philosophy's ever-present patriarchal shadow over human thought.

Until we find purpose or make peace with the lack of it, we can all languish in Aporia and let the music wash away our confusion.


Nazi-Chic: The Aesthetics of Fascism

Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.

Villains always have the best outfits.

From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.

Way more handsome than Batman.

But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.

Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.

Oh, right.

Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.

Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did.

Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.

As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.

History of Nazi Chic

For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.

The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.

Very rotten, Johnny.

Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.

The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid.

Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.

Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.

Lady Gaga looking SS-uper.

Nazi Chic in Asia

Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.

A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.

In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.


That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.

In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.


So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?

The answer is not so black and white.

On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.

But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.

Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.


Sufjan Stevens and Lowell Brams Haunt with "The Runaround"

Stevens and his stepfather, Brams, are releasing a collaborative album next month.

It's been five years since Sufjan Stevens' last full-length album, the hauntingly beautiful Carrie & Lowell.

The album's name refers to Stevens' mother, Carrie, and stepfather, Lowell Brams. Stevens and Brams have worked together for years, and next month, the pair are releasing their second album together, Aporia. They're teasing it with an industrial-tinged ambient track, "The Runaround."

On first pass, "The Runaround" sounds like a far cry from the simple folk that's made Stevens such a prominent figure. There might not be any of his standard acoustic guitar, but the metallic soundscapes show off an eerier side of Stevens. Although the song does lean heavily into atmospheric motifs, some gorgeous, more conventional melodies do poke through, as does Stevens' heavily-altered voice: "Holding the flame / Burning a megaphone / What are you waiting for? / An open door?" "The Runaround" sounds soothing, but bears a looming sense of unrest.

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