Last week one of the greatest musicians of our time announced his first proper full length album in five years. Sufjan Stevens had released the harrowing, soulful, and emotional Carrie & Lowell in 2015 and since then been teased with Sufjans return with movie soundtracks, collaborations with members of The National, and long ambient pieces. But finally he returns with The Ascension.
Today saw the release of “My Rajneesh”, the b-side to Sufjan’s new single “America”, which was released just one week ago. It’s rare when a b-side is better than the a-side, and this is one of those rare cases. It’s bizarre that a track as perfect as this didn’t even make the cut to feature on the record. “America” was being celebrated as the successor to “Impossible Soul”, the closing track off the artist’s 2010 record The Age Of Adz, that clocked in at 25 minutes. It seemed like “America” was only being labelled as such due to its long run time of 12 minutes.
I’m luke-warm on “America”. It seemed like a strange song to release as the first taster of the track, being 12 minutes and the closing song (I mean, who does he think he is, Bob Dylan?) I’m sure in the context of the record it will be an emotional fade out to the record. However, “My Rajneesh” is a marvel and a multi-instrumental opus, which feels more like the successor to “Impossible Soul” due to how deeply layered it is, and I’m certain that the track even samples “Vesuvius”, another Age of Adz track. The ambient fade out is even more satisfying than that on “America”, and it’s shorter.
I have seen people billing The Ascension of a mix between Carrie & Lowell and The Age of Adz, combining the interospective and emotive lyrics and delivery of the former, and the sonic revelations and electronic experiments of the latter. Based on these two tracks, I’d say that’s a pretty spot on explanation. Though we have already experienced 22 minutes of this new era of Stevens, The Ascension is his longest record to date, clocking in at 80 minutes.