Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

In another life, I would find myself in various US cities all across the country for short intervals. One of the pleasures I took with that was picking out the music appropriate for the locale. And so, in the summer of 2005, I found myself driving around Chicago, IL blasting Come On Feel the Illinoise by Sufjan Stevens. For a geek like me, this was absolutely thrilling. The final album in his States albums, it spoke to me on a visceral level. In fact, I’ve long gravitated towards the acoustic based albums by Sufjan Stevens while admiring / not loving his more experimental albums. In fact, 2015’s Carrie and Lowell was easily my favorite release of his – acoustic, personal, masterful. How would he ever follow that album up?

Discounting his collaboration albums, 2020’s The Ascension is the 1st true full-length solo follow up. And it does a neat trick – it rewrites the rules a bit. It sounds NOTHING like his acoustic based albums. But it doesn’t really sound like his experimental albums either. We have an album that shares a remarkable amount of characteristics with Kanye West’s 808 & Heartbreak. Say what you will about Kanye, but that album is a masterpiece in my opinion. And here we have Sufjan Stevens employing his own electronic soundscapes, imbued with a sadness that is disarming. This is an album length anthem for 2020. I would dub it “downbeat anti-gospel music”. And it is (almost) perfection.

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Sufjan Stevens – The Lord God Bird

godbird

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

2005 found Sufjan Stevens releasing his 2nd state themed record, Illinois. Stylistically similar to 2003’s Michigan, it added a depth to the indie orchestral musical stylings. Amidst all the critical acclaim and recordings, Sufjan found time to visit independent radio producers Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister to reveal his writing process. Carrying on with his location-based songwriting, Stevens was introduced to the town of Brinkley, Arkansas. The ivory-billed woodpecker had recently been rediscovered after a period in which it was thought to be extinct. The bird is dubbed the lord god bird due to its stunning appearance – one of the largest woodpeckers in the world with distinctive coloring around the head. Sufjan released his song The Lord God Bird as a free download on the NPR website in July of 2005. The song is an exercise in beauty – conveying hope and spiritual longing in equal measures. Acoustic in nature, the song would have fit in perfectly with Sufjan’s mid 00’s records. It’s almost hard to believe that this song was given away for free – its one of my favorite Sufjan Stevens songs. It hooks you right from the opening line: “In the delta sun, down in Arkansas / It’s the great god bird with its altar call”. You can still find the free (and legal) download of the song here. You can also view a video that perfectly fits the song below. Enjoy.