Enigmatic singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens makes his long-awaited follow-up to 2015's Carrie & Lowell with the 15-track double LP, The Ascension. In the meantime Stevens issued several collaboration albums including Planetarium with Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly and James McAlister, The Decalogue with Timo Andres, and Aporia with his stepfather, Lowell Brams. The years-in-the-making collection's first single comes in the form of the sprawling closing track "America."
Sufjan says the foundations of The Ascension are "a call for personal transformation and a refusal to play along with the systems around us." And its first single stands as "a protest song against the sickness of American culture in particular." "America" may feel apt for the times, but it was written six years ago, originally worked on during the making of Carrie & Lowell. "I was dumbfounded by the song when I first wrote it," Sufjan says. "Because it felt vaguely mean-spirited and miles away from everything else on Carrie & Lowell. So I shelved it. But when I dug up the demo a few years later I was shocked by its prescience. I could no longer dismiss it as angry and glib. The song was clearly articulating something prophetic and true, even if I hadn't been able to identify it at the time. That's when I saw a clear path toward what I had to do next."
Sufjan then re-recorded the song and spent the next two years writing and recording the rest of the material on The Ascension almost entirely by himself on his computer, working mostly with a drum machine and handful of synthesizers, using "America" as its thematic template. Sufjan adds, "My objective for this album was simple: Interrogate the world around you. Question anything that doesn't hold water. Exterminate all bullshit. Be part of the solution or get out of the way. Keep it real. Keep it true. Keep it simple. Keep it moving." The result is The Ascension, a "lush, editorial pop album," as Sufjan describes it, that finds us all at a "terrifying crossroad."