Indie artist Sufjan Stevens is preparing for a hot album release on Sept. 25 and he’s released three critical tracks. They are evocative of his style but also hinting at something new.
The album, titled “The Ascension,” is the eighth studio album from Sufjan Stevens planned to release under the Asthmatic Kitty label. The album is planned to have 15 tracks in varying styles as is typical of Stevens’ particular style. The album is be approximately an hour and 20 minutes long.
The three tracks released “America,” “Video Game,” and “Sugar” are all very much in Stevens’ usual style. Stevens has always been quite experimental in his approach to music and this can be tracked across his releases. He has had a small cult following for most of his career, but it has only been in recent years that he has received wider acclaim. This is probably attributed to him writing and performing the title track on the soundtrack to “Call Me By Your Name” starring Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet.
“America” is the longest of the three tracks and is by far the most experimental in terms of form and compositional elements. It starts out with an ethereal white noise effect before kicking off into the sung portion of the song. Most of the song is actually instrumental in a style that gives off the perception of randomness but of course, the song isn’t random at all. Stevens incorporates sampled sounds that replicate various strife sounds. This track will be quite striking with the context of the full album when it releases.
“Video Game” is a stark contrast from “America” in the regard that it’s like something out of an 80s movie or at the very least it’s attempting to emulate this style. The music video released with the song has wild disco imagery combined with digital line aesthetics like that in the movie “Tron.” The song’s musical content is a standard 80s dance beat but, like many of Stevens’ output, the lyrical content is where he shines. Stevens often incorporates religious imagery into his music and this track is no different. One repeated line goes “I don’t want to be your personal Jesus, I don’t want to be your video game.” The interest in this line is two-fold: he repeats it several times throughout the song, and it’s clearly a metaphor for those that use religious imagery and themes as a tool to achieve agendas.
“Sugar” is just as exciting as “Video Game” but it combined with the music video, it’s clear the message of the song is about domestic life and how happiness is not the same thing as joy. The music video depicts interpretive dance of a family demonstrating the struggles of families who don’t relate well to each other and have underlying issues that are tough to resolve. The musical content is closer to that of “America” in that there are many noise elements, but there is also more clear melody. It’s a nice blend of the two different aspects of Stevens’ music.
Avid fans and new listeners should find much to love in the upcoming album if the three tracks already released are any indicator. Sufjan Stevens’ “The Ascension” preemptively receives an A rating.