Sufjan Stevens – “The Ascension” Review

Story posted September 29, 2020 in CommRadio, Arts & Entertainment by Emily McGlynn

Sufjan Stevens has released two albums in 2020, but it’s his newest release, “The Ascension,” that has topped most, if not all, of his albums. 

Stevens has been around since the early 2000s, but he really took off in 2017 after the release of the film “Call Me by Your Name.” The songs “Mystery of Love” and “Visions of Gideon” made people fall in love with him, and many have been hooked ever since.

In Stevens’ past albums, it’s clear to see a common thread of indie folk and acoustic music. But he’s changing it up by switching to the ambient, experimental side of his craft.

“The Ascension” is not supposed to be judged by each individual song but judged as a whole. Just like Tyler, the Creator’s “IGOR” or Radiohead’s “Kid A,” there is a theme to the album, and it flows extremely well.

Of course, some can differentiate when a new song is playing, but many of the same synths and electronic effects are played throughout. On the 2015 album “Carrie & Lowell,” Stevens started to experiment with electronic instruments, keyboards and synths. So it makes sense that this is the next step.

Listening to an album like “The Ascension” is refreshing to hear in this day and age, solely because no one is releasing 1970s-inspired music anymore. With this album, Stevens brings some nostalgia, and, obviously, he still has his soft, captivating voice that tops it all off.

Any follower of Sufjan Stevens should probably be a little concerned about him. Much of his work in the past was melancholy, but this album cranks that up a notch. Just skimming through the song titles, “Die Happy,” “Tell Me You Love Me” and “Goodbye to All That” are unquestionably sad.

Diving deeper, it’s clear that Stevens has a way with words. He can paint a picture and a situation for anybody to understand. Not only is he discussing his inner turmoil here but America’s turmoil as well.

Stevens is generally a not public person; he speaks through his music. So, it would be fascinating to understand what he is going through and how he’s grown. It would also be interesting to know his current political beliefs, as many artists are expressing their support for leaders nowadays.

Despite this depressiveness all throughout, there is still hope for the future. 

Sufjan Stevens is ascending.

Albums like “Michigan” and “Carrie & Lowell” are lyrically focused. What is different about “The Ascension” is that the spotlight is now on the music itself. Stevens had previously proven that he could write lyrics to illustrate what he’s feeling now it seems clear that he can do that with his music too.

The song “Die Happy” repeats the title phrase over and over again with psychedelic sounds. But this time around, his main message is put into one stanza, and the music does the real talking.

Overall, this album is excellent. The songs flow beautifully together and are effective for listeners. Everyone will have their favorite songs, so it is a little difficult to pinpoint the good and the bad. But it will be interesting to see if Stevens’ next release will follow this new path he appears to have found.

Sufjan Stevens has been rebirthed.

Rating: 8/10

Reviewer’s Favorite Songs: “The Ascension” and “Goodbye to All That”

Reviewer’s Least Favorite Songs: “Ativan” and “Gilgamesh”


Emily McGlynn is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email