Sufjan Stevens Shares 12-Minute Long New Protest Song “America” | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Sufjan Stevens Shares 12-Minute Long New Protest Song “America”

The Ascension Due Out September 25 via Asthmatic Kitty

Jul 03, 2020
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Sufjan Stevens is releasing a new album, The Ascension, on September 25 via Asthmatic Kitty. When it was announced on Tuesday it was promised that the album’s first single, 12-minute long closing track “America,” would be released today and here it is. Accompanying the song is a video of an American flag slowly blowing in the wind. With a title like “America,” its timed release the day before July 4th is no accident and in a press release Stevens says it’s “a protest song against the sickness of American culture in particular.”

“Don’t do to me what you did to America,” Stevens sings in the chorus. “Don’t do to me what you do to yourself.” A press release further says the song “is an indictment of a world crumbling around us—and a roadmap out of here.”  

Stevens says The Ascension is “a call for personal transformation and a refusal to play along with the systems around us.” Could this be his protest album?

And while “America” may seem written for these times, it was actually written six years ago, prior to the election of Donald Trump, when he was working on his last fully fledged studio solo album, 2015’s Carrie & Lowell.

“I was dumbfounded by the song when I first wrote it,” Stevens says in the press release. “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.”

Stevens then re-recorded “America” and used it as a jumping off point for The Ascension.

The B-side for the “America” single, non-album track “My Rajneesh,” was also written around the same time. The two songs will be released as 12-inch single on July 31, with “My Rajneesh” getting an earlier digital release on July 10.

Musically, “America” is much closer to the experimental and disorientating sounds of his 2010 album The Age of Adz, rather than the more delicate folk of Carrie & Lowell.

Stevens recorded most of The Ascension himself, on his computer, and basing it around a drum machine and synthesizers. Stevens calls it a “lush, editorial pop album,” one that finds us all at a “terrifying crossroad.”

“My objective for this album was simple: Interrogate the world around you,” Stevens adds. “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 Ascension is described as the official follow-up to Carrie & Lowell. Stevens has released plenty of music in the five years since Carrie & Lowell, but he hasn’t released a straight up solo album since then. In 2017 he teamed up with Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner (of The National), and James McAlister for the collaborative album, Planetarium, which centered around space and the planets. The same year he also released a mixtape entitled The Greatest Gift, which featured unreleased outtakes, remixes, and iPhone demos from Carrie & Lowell.

Stevens also performed at the 2018 Academy Awards, doing “Mystery of Love,” a song written for the film Call Me By Your Name that was nominated for Best Original Song (but didn’t win). In 2019 he teamed up with the composer/pianist Timo Andres to release the soundtrack to the ballet The Decalogue. The same year he also shared the new songs “Love Yourself” and “With My Whole Heart,” in honor of Pride Month.

Back in March of this year Stevens teamed up with his stepfather Lowell Brams for the new collaborative instrumental album Aporia, via Asthmatic Kitty. Stevens and Brams, who co-founded Asthmatic Kitty together in 1999, had been working on Aporia for several years, when Brams would visit Stevens at his New York home. The album was narrowed down from hours and hours of jam sessions.

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