Sufjan Stevens: The Ascension review – Reaching for something to believe in

Fri, Sep 25, 2020, 05:30

   
 

Album:
The Ascension

Artist:
Sufjan Stevens

Label:
Asthmatic Kitty

Genre:
Singer / Songwriter

Over the years, Sufjan Stevens has explored and expanded upon the mythology of America. Here he interrogates that mythology. The result is a holy trinity of vitality, rigour and joy, a protest record that is pleasingly ambitious. Over 15 songs he asks: is a new America possible?

Difficult emotions are reflected and refracted in impressionistic language and a dizzyingly diverse set of soundscapes, circling back to 2010’s Age of Adz and its unbridled sensuality. The Ascension is at the darker end of that logic.

Make Me an Offer I Cannot Refuse begins with fragmented sighs prefacing an immersive world of dreamy melodies and glitchy drums for a semi-techno gem, which complements the pops and stutters of Lamentations, and Die Happy’s intricate electronica.

Sufjan Stevens - Sugar (official video)

He references the cult of personality on the radiantly percussive Video Game, panic spirals in the drone-laden Ativan, and goth-industrial-Prince on Death Star.

There is an R&B flourish inside the coy Sugar, and a melancholy subtlety on Run Away with Me, the aching Tell Me You Love Me and the tender, redemptive Gilgamesh.

The Joan Didion-referencing Goodbye to All That is sorrow amid sleigh bells. The almost-13 minute shapeshifting magnificence of America suggests that Stevens “no longer” believes.

F Scott Fitzgerald wrote “there are no second acts in American lives”, and yet, at the precipice, Stevens leaves us not with dissolution, but resolution, for a second act to believe in. Exceptional.