- 25 Sep 20
Stunning swerve into pop from sad-eyed folkie.
The world is falling to pieces and so Sufjan Stevens has made a pop album. It isn’t just a pop album, mind – The Ascension brims with darkness, foreboding and a healthy suspicion of social media (the unfiltered cigarettes of the 21st century, upon which so many of us are cheerfully puffing). However, it’s also one of the catchiest things he has ever done.
Stevens was a little overwhelmed by the reception of Illinois in 2005 and his response, five years later, was the wonderful, barking mad Age of Adz. The problem would seem to be that Stevens can do heartbreaking folk at the drop of a trucker’s cap – see 2015’s mortality-obsessed Carrie and Lowell – but that he understands the risks of knocking out the same LP over and over.
Well, here’s the solution – a grippingly off-base, entirely addictive suite of damaged cyber-pop. This is Steven’s roar of frustration at a time when institutions are failing, old certainties crumbling and none of us can get the fuck off Twitter.
“It’s unfortunate that we live in a society where the value of people is quantified by likes, followers, listeners and views,” he says in an accompanying press release. “So many people are seeking attention for the wrong reasons. I think we should all be doing our best without looking for accolades or seeking reward.”
Such is the central argument of single ‘Video Games’, wherein Stevens’ filtered voice proclaims, “I don’t wanna be the centre of the universe/ I don’t wanna be a part of that shame.”
He further cranks up the tempo on the glitter-bombing ‘Lamentations’, which pairs a tumbling groove to sad synths that come looping in at the end. It’s Ariana Grande doing Joy Division – and it’s wonderful.
Stevens wears his heart on his sleeve here, and even more so on ‘Tell Me You Love Me’, crooning “I’ve lost my faith in everything”, before concluding that human connection will see him through. These are difficult times and some of us are going through our own traumas. But this album is empathic and joyous and will give you something to cling onto, even in the darkest hours.