Boomkat Product Review:
Actually pretty fucking good singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens goes back to his roots for an album of glitchy electronic pop that makes Owl City's 'Fireflies' sound edgy.
Back in 2001, a young Sufjan Stevens released his second album "Enjoy Your Rabbit", following the subtle folk of debut "A Sun Came!" with a collection of bit-crushed electronic pop that owed more to Radiohead's "Kid A" than it did Nick Drake. But it was the melancholy pop-folk of "Seven Swans" and later "Illinois" that took Stevens to the next level of Pitchfork-approved success. And while 2010's "Age of Adz" found Stevens approaching electronic pop once more, 2015's "Carrie & Lowell" found him back on the stripped-down folk tip, scoring plenty of well-deserved acclaim.
Now Stevens is back with "The Ascension", an album that once again finds him singing Simon & Garfunkel-esque pop over beats that sound like they might have been pinched from DNTEL's hard drive. In theory, we should like this, right? The songs are memorable, the harmonies are lovely, the ambition is impressive (our boy has a 12 minute finale called 'America' - like, levels), but the sheer quantity of corn-syrup-derived sweetness on offer here is too much for our ruined teeth to handle.
In the mid-2000s we might have lapped this up, when Bright Eyes was hot off "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" and every IDM artist ever seemed to want to slather their work with vocals. But in 2020 it's frankly surplus to requirement. Stevens is a great singer, a gifted songwriter and a very good producer. He's got great engineers and the album sounds, technically, ace. But all of this doesn't save it from feeling like the accompaniment to an infomercial. Like sure we all want to escape, but should we? This ain't COVID-safe, that's all we're saying. No hugging.