Of Sound Thoughts is a biweekly weblog about new albums, previous albums, forgotten albums, overrated albums and another kind of listening expertise from employees author Lucas DiBlasi.
To evaluate whether or not music captures the texture of a cultural second is quite a lot of strain to placed on musicians. It’s primarily a non-starter — people are too advanced and diversified for one piece of artwork to seize a whole nation.
However even with necessary caveats, Sufjan Stevens’ new album, “The Ascension,” launched Sept. 25, captures the pervasive and almost-Lovecraftian horror (and diversified coping mechanisms) in present American tradition with lyrical and musical perfection. Otherworldly sounds ooze out and in of Stevens’ brilliantly structured songs, whereas sweeping percussive beats and synthesizers underscore lyrics that search God, love or another manner out of the current second in what quantities to a ravishing, album-long scream.
Artists are continually consuming varied cultures and regurgitating them, performing as a sieve and a funnel for the nationwide zeitgeist. Artistic sorts are likely to skew liberal, and I’ve been questioning about and watching their response to the Trump presidency for nearly 4 years now. Throughout the bubble that I — a younger, liberal faculty scholar — inhabit, there’s a model of defensive nihilism that’s been adopted within the face of local weather change, wealth and racial inequality and the present political local weather.
“The Ascension” displays and ruminates on this unusual postmodernism higher than any artwork I’ve seen within the final 4 years. Stevens has all the time had a penchant for creating albums which are novels unto themselves, whether or not the scope is as small as poignant reflections on his upbringing in “Carrie and Lowell” (2015) or as massive as a whole state in “Michigan” (2003) or “Illinois” (2005).
However “The Ascension” is, in scope and music, most like his 2010 album “The Age of Adz,” as each function estranged lyrics, unusual bleeps and bloops, erratic drumming and bombastic manufacturing. All through each albums, Stevens’ voice usually flips between his feathery mourning and harsher layers of dreadful craving.
Within the good opening monitor, “Make Me an Supply I Can’t Refuse,” Stevens turns to asking for spiritual deliverance — “Lord I want deliverance/ Make me a suggestion I can’t refuse,” whereas the drums and synths pulse round him. The supply should not have been made, as within the second monitor he feels the necessity to search himself for illness and discover redemption in a brand new lover.
The album solely continues this theatrical bouncing between God and a lover, and typically each, as a result of the choice seems to be neither. Hopeless paralysis and drugged-out escapism dominate the moments the place Stevens isn’t religiously devoting himself to a lover (or the Almighty himself). In “Ativan,” he sings, “Is all of it for one thing? Is all of it a part of a plan?/ Tranquilize me, sanitize me, Ativan,” and in “Die Glad,” he needs for a cheerful demise time and again, hopelessly.
One of many hallmarks of a fantastic album, and nice artwork usually, is inexhaustibility. When an image is price an infinite quantity of phrases, and an album can reveal one thing new on the 1,000th pay attention, I take into account them masterpieces. “The Ascension” is nothing if not dense — when there are not any lyrics, the layered background voices, synths, guitars, drums and bass are megalith, and the lyrics are so full with biblical and poetic references as to be meals for thought for years.
A film that’s nice till the previous couple of minutes is taken into account a failure — folks will dismiss something they don’t just like the ending of, as a result of endings are so extremely necessary to tales. The place does such a dismally great, religiously romantic album find yourself, on the finish?
There’s a small lull on the album earlier than the penultimate monitor, which shares its title with the album, that has Stevens meditating on his personal demise over a piano-ish ballad. He sings that he hoped for a non secular which means out of melancholy and anger, however “to all the pieces there isn’t any which means/ A season of ache and hopelessness” and “I did all of it with adoration/ Whilst you killed all of it off together with your holy mess.”
The track fades out with a refrain of “What now?” earlier than the ultimate monitor, “America,” which is the linchpin of the album. “I’m ashamed to confess I not imagine,” Stevens sings, earlier than begging his lover to not “do to me what you probably did to America.” There are small glimmers of hope in and between the traces of the final two songs, however you must seek for them.
I received’t sit right here and faux to know precisely what this album is about, exactly what or who Stevens is singing about and what to do with that data. There is no such thing as a one which means to “The Ascension,” however to me it captures the postmodern state of affairs of a fractured society and a fraying democracy staring down the barrel of pure nihilism.
And in some masochistic manner, I can’t get sufficient of it. The music is a world unto itself, and the lyrics name out to be unpacked. The songs are genuinely enjoyable to hearken to and even function Stevens’ tackle pop in “Sugar” and “Video Sport.” On the very least, the album provides companionship — another person feels the phobia, too, and never solely that, they represented it with lovely music for you.
In such an unholy new world, within the midst of crumbling and chaos and the seek for redemption in your self and others, “The Ascension” will get the American tradition I’m aware of appropriate. And from me, it will get a sanctified 9.6/10.
Lucas DiBlasi is a music composition and digital narrative and interactive design double main. You possibly can write to him at [email protected].
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