Sufjan Stevens has announced the release of his eighth solo studio album ‘The Ascension’ (out on 25 September via Asthmatic Kitty Records – pre-order here) and shared the record’s 12-minute closing track, ‘America’.
Sufjan describes the single as ‘a protest song against the sickness of American culture in particular’ and even though it was written six years ago, it feels particularly relevant in today’s cultural and political landscape: ‘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.’
The new album has been written and recorded almost entirely by Sufjan on his own with a drum machine – listen out for its impact on ‘America’ – and a handful of synthesisiers (although Casey Foubert plays lead and bass guitar on this song). Sufjan opens the song by asking ‘Is it love you’re after?’ and as the grandiose chamber pop sound build up, he pleads with the subject of his affection ‘Don’t do to me what you did to America. I have loved you, I have grieved. I’m ashamed to admit I no longer believe I have loved you’.
Sufjan continues to examine his own actions (‘The dove flew to me like a vision of paranoia. I have loved you like a dream. I have kissed your lips like a Judas in heat. I have worshipped, I believed I have broke your bread for a splendor of machinery’) before declaring ‘I’m like a fever of light in the land of opportunity’. The song takes a turn into the unknown around the 7-minute mark with a powerful electronic breakdown that captures the anxieties and fever dream landscape with aplomb before settling into something more restrained and comforting.