America

Album: The Ascension (2020)
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Songfacts®:

  • The Ascension is an electropop album that grapples with an American culture that Sufjan Stevens perceives as up in flames. This protest song against the sickness of American culture is its lead single.
  • Stevens first wrote the 12-minute epic in 2014 when he was working on his Carrie & Lowell album. "I was dumbfounded by the song when I first wrote it," he said. "Because it felt vaguely mean-spirited and miles away from everything else on Carrie & Lowell. So I shelved it."

    When Stevens dug out its demo a few years later, he was shocked by how prescient it seemed to current events in the US. "I could no longer dismiss it as angry and glib," said the singer. "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."

    Rewriting the song over the next two years, Stevens found it became the "thematic template" for his follow up to Carrie & Lowell. "My objective for this album was simple: Interrogate the world around you," he said. "Question anything that doesn't hold water. Exterminate all bulls--t."
  • During the mid-2000s, Stevens released two albums that celebrate US states: Michigan and Illinois. He said at the time they were part of a planned series of 50 but has since acknowledged that was a joke. This song plays out like a despairing mirror version of Stevens' Fifty States records. "I am ashamed to admit I no longer believe," he sings solemnly.
  • The Guardian asked Stevens if he is repenting for his previous positive mythologizing of America.

    "Experience makes fools of us all," he said. "In experiencing so much and growing older, I've realized there was definitely a naivety to my former self. There was a hopefulness, joyfulness and playfulness to a lot of those early records that's been slowly receding over the years. It's hard for me to speak for it because it's happened so gradually, like watching a tree grow. But you start to lose faith in the structures of society as you get older, and I think that's coming to the surface now."

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