Review: Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

Sufjan Stevens - The Ascension

When reviewing a new record from Sufjan Stevens, at this stage in his 20+ year career, the opening paragraph practically writes itself. You can start by recapping his much-publicized, albeit half-serious, ambitions to create an album about each US state; then discuss his (also ambitious) zany pursuits, many of which involve Christmas songs; then shift to his mid-career pivot towards spazzy electronica; and then take us to his critically acclaimed acoustic works over the past five years. Let’s forgo all that (at least any further) and just state the obvious fact that Stevens’s new record, The Ascension, adds to a singular, shape-shifting discography. Which, if you haven’t listened, or listened much, to any of this output, then I suggest you do not start with Stevens’s newest album, which is not necessarily a “for fans only” release but doesn’t consistently capture the magic of earlier records. Instead, let me suggest the first half of Illinois for dazzling orchestral Americana that sounds as unique now as it did 15 years ago; the last two songs from The Age of Adz for glitchier electronica rooted in folk, as if I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn were synthesized into one record; and the middle of Carrie and Lowell for achingly vulnerable, sparsely arranged songs about abandonment, death, love, and forgiveness. 

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