Sufjan Stevens’ The Ascension feels like it takes a step back to drag the listener in. There are many pop elements within all the synths and beats, however the mix is always held back. Rather than sad bangers
, this rage-bangers
. In the hustle bustle of lockdown life and political upheaval, the album provides something of a meditation to stop and reconsider. As Grant Sharples
suggests, although it may not be the optimistic answer we may be craving for at the moment, it certain captures the current air of contemplation.
Though it’s still an incredible album, The Ascension better suits the cynicism of 2020. It feels banal to say that, but The Ascension isn’t exactly the optimistic salve that people may be looking for in 2020. Fans can find solace in this colossal work, sharing Stevens’ valid sentiment that, simply put, everything sucks right now.
Sam Sodomsky touches on the meditative aspects of the album, comparing it to a big IMAX experience:
The whole thing works best when you approach it like a big-budget IMAX movie set in space with a great leading actor: Don’t get too hung up on the plot—just tilt back your head and watch him float.
Kitty Empire touches on the personal and collective pain at the heart of Stevens’ album:
The Ascension’s maximalist reckoning finds his horror at national affairs mirroring his own inner turbulence.
Hannah Mylrea talks about Stevens’ intent to address an America he could no longer ignore:
Recognising that he “could no longer dismiss ‘America’ as angry and glib”, he instead felt inspired to create a whole record that examined the world he was living in, questioning it when it felt wrong and “exterminating all bullshit“.
Jon Pareles explains that the album is more metaphysical than biographical.
“The Ascension” leaps to an opposite extreme: synthetic and outsized rather than intimately acoustic, metaphysical instead of biographical.
Zan Rowe also interviewed Stevens which touches on faith, social media, and caring less as he grows older.
Place in-between Pan American and Thom Yorke.