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Sufjan returns with the long awaited follow up to Carrie & Lowell, featuring some of his most confident and varied work to date. We kick things off with the unassuming beginnings of 'Make Me An Offer I Cannot Refuse' before launching into a deeply electronic but airy Thom Yorkey vocal workout. It's this sort of rapid switch and thematic flexibility that both characterises the album and leads to the most surprising and satisfying moments of his career.
'Video Game' sees some haunting organy synth leading into a deeply rythmic and pop-led verse, showcasing Stevens' iconic voice, and dedication to variety in songcraft.
there are some more ambient moments at play, with 'Die Happy' and 'Gilgamesh' trading on the ambient electronic backdrop, but with long tailed reverbs and soaring echoes working their way around the stereo image.
Possibly the most satisfying moments on this collection comes as the flow of the album quietens down into the euphoric redux of the latter third of the album. 'Sugar' could easily have been the background to some of the earlier, skittering electronics of Múm or the Rós, while the title track encompasses everything we love about Stevens, but imbued with a mildly melancholic but wholly relaxed atmospherics.
It's a beautiful LP, and one that only goes to prove how essential Stevens continues to be on our musical landscape.
Javi says: From the opening choral glitches to the sea of ambience which sees the album out, ‘The Ascension’ is a patchwork of electronic experimentation, distorted lamentations, and intimate confession.
Sufjan Stevens has long been a musical chameleon: from the alt-folk expression of ‘Carrie & Lowell’, to the meticulously-researched bombast of ‘Illinois’ and digital catharsis of ‘The Age of Adz’, he’s proven time and time again that whatever the instrumentation or subject matter, he can write rich, personal, spiritual songs like no one else. ‘The Ascension’ draws on all these and more, to create an album as fragile as it is grand, as despairing as it is defiant, and as inspired (if not more so) than anything he’s done before.
‘The Ascension’ is a predominantly electronic affair: huge, distorted drums pulse throughout the album, underscoring hordes of ghostly voices and shifting synths. Celestial car alarm effects argue with auto-tuned vocal cries, while album highlight “Landslide” sees Sufjan bow to a guitar solo, of all things, teetering in-between The Durutti Column’s understated beauty and wild math-rock frenzy. Lyrically, Sufjan seems desperate for a response, making demands and pleading with us, the listener, to soothe his anxieties. Faith and certainty are out; desire and anxiety are in. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the penultimate and titular track, which sees Sufjan explore those thoughts he “couldn’t quite confess” to gut-wrenching effect.
Like Dante’s Inferno reimagined as a tour of purgatory, ‘The Ascension’ is a deeply conflicted, gloriously lost, and tentatively comforting album. It’s Sufjan’s finest hour (and twenty minutes) yet.
1. Make Me An Offer I Cannot Refuse (5:19)
2. Run Away With Me (4:07)
3. Video Game (4:16)
4. Lamentations (3:42)
5. Tell Me You Love Me (4:22)
6. Die Happy (5:47)
7. Ativan (6:32)
8. Ursa Major (3:43)
9. Landslide (5:04)
10. Gilgamesh (3:50)
11. Death Star (4:04)
12. Goodbye To All That (3:48)
13. Sugar (7:37)
14. The Ascension (5:56)
15. America (12:30)