On Sept 25, Sufjan Stevens released his first album in five years. “The Ascension” is the artist’s eighth studio album, but it feels everything but the same old thing.
The 15-song album clocks in at an hour and 20 minutes, but Stevens used that time to explore. It’s more of an experimental collection than everything else— a chaotic response to the chaos of 2020. He delves into emotions that need that kind of playtime to be expressed, and toes the line between cliche and relatable.
Though he’s technically an indie folk artist, Stevens is an expert at shapeshifting, and this album is a reflection of that. He opted to set down his trusty banjo in exchange for an electronic playground, and moved away from the traditional song structure to create an abstract texture and emotion. It reads a lot like modern art.
With that being said, “The Ascension” is definitely not a radio hit. It’s not meant as a crowd pleaser. It’s just pure expression. “Die Happy” is an almost 6 minute long repetition of a single phrase. It’s safe to say Stevens could be going through it, but he’s using that to fuel the emotion behind each track.
It’s also a primarily downbeat, minimalistic album. Each song builds and falls, but the tone stays low. It’s echoic and heavy with the occasional flash of color.
It’s really just one of those albums you need to put on, lean back and listen through. The timestamp makes it a bit of a chore, but its more about the experience than anything else. Each track echoes around you in its own way, and Stevens injects his lyrical poetry to give it a backbone.
Overall, it’s not something I would listen to going about my day, but it’s something I’d love to slip into and completely feel. “The Ascension” is art, and art is often a tough pill to swallow.