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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Sonny Lanegan – Coma

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I’ve long been a fan of the work of Sonny Lanegan, based out of Los Angeles, CA. From solo instrumental soundscapes to industrial noise with his various groups, there has always been a melodic hook to pull me in. Sonny’s new solo EP Coma arrives almost 3 years after his collaborative effort with Isabella Knight in The Dead Good. That EP was a high point in Lanegan’s career – one that continues with Coma. Excess in rock n roll is nothing new – finding new ways of expressing decadence is a true talent these days. Songs about mind altering substances, carnal delights, and embracing seediness hasn’t sounded this good since Soft Cell’s Non Stop Erotic Cabaret. Decadence, for those of you who need clarification, is “moral or cultural decline as characterized by excessive indulgence in pleasure or luxury.” While also the title of one of my favorite Pet Shop Boys songs, it also perfectly describes Sonny’s new EP.

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Pet Shop Boys – Electric

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2012’s record Elysium by the The Pet Shop Boys sparked reviews that varied in tone and critique. It was sometimes mentioned as beautifully autumnal and sad but also criticized as sounding tired and slightly bitter (often within the same review) – for me it was a record that grew in stature with each listen. I mentioned in my review that it was “not quite a masterpiece, but has some very special, very Pet Shop Boys moments.” I stand by that statement, 9 months later. I will say that one of the singles from that record – “Leaving” – stands as one of my favorite Pet Shop Boys songs of all time – a perfect embodiment of melancholy and hope. Historical revisionism is a curious thing and appears to be alive and well with the release of the latest Pet Shop Boys record, Electric. It is easy to fall into that trap when faced with a record that is a masterpiece because everything that immediately preceded its release seems dull in comparison. So it goes with the Pet Shop Boys in 2013. I loved last years record, but it couldn’t prepare me for the non-stop delight that is Electric.

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Johnny Marr – Upstarts b/w Psychic Beginner

JohnnyMarr

Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before – guitarist from an adored band that is still immensely popular 25 years after the breakup releases solo record. You might think I’m talking about the exploits of Slash from Guns n’ Roses, but I’m not – I’m talking about Johnny Marr who first made his mark with The Smiths. The last thing I want to do is recount an epic play-by-play of Marr’s departure from The Smiths – there are plenty of other reviews / articles out there that’ll paint a vulgar picture. His exploits post The Smiths have for the most part been fairly amazing depending on who you speak to (bands include The The, Marion, Electronic, Modest Mouse, The Cribs). Personally? I like just about anything that has Johnny Marr’s distinctive guitar work and songwriting.

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