Country / Folk / 2020 / Asthmatic Kitty
Even though “America” was written 6 years ago, during the process of building Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens’ seventh album, this could not be the best time for Stevens to release it since this track now appears even stronger and more powerful. Since 2014, a lot has changed in the world, especially in the United States: Americans went from a Democratic Obama government to a Republican Trump regime, which, since its beginning, has been supported by racist, xenophobic, sexist and homophobic speeches and ideas. In 2017, Stevens wrote on the internet, “Christ would be ashamed of us all” referring to Trump’s policies regarding immigration in the United States. “I charge you to eradicate barriers, and listen and learn from each other”, he added. Now, in 2020, things only get worse: the global pandemic crisis of COVID-19 and the recent murders of black men by white police around the world make Stevens lose his hope in America and “America” represents this in the best possible way.
During its 12 minutes, “America” is majestic. Stevens could have followed direct lines; however, he chose to fill that time with connections and relations between the current situation in the United States with passages and biblical mentions. At the beginning of the track, he wonders: “A sign of the flood or one more disaster” with his voice sounding as if it were hovering in an atmosphere totally different from ours. Quickly, his voice becomes an act of piety and he asks God: “Don’t do to me what you did to America”. He knows the current situation in America, the nightmare that the American dream has become. And this is how “America” is built, during its more than 10 minutes, Stevens is giving metaphorical tips that transform the North American country into a kind of biblical scene, where all the disaster takes place.
His cries are painful, frightening and sincere. “I have worshiped, I have cried / I have put my hands in the wounds on your side / I have tasted of your blood”, he sings with his voice of pity, resentment and honesty. However, as much as the lyrics are composed of these incredible passages (“But I will find my way like a Judas in heat / I am fortune, I am free”) and a request for misery that is tirelessly worked on, the sound of the track ends also being an incredibly beautiful and inspiring part. In the beginning, there is an extremely complex atmosphere: keyboards play brilliant and dreamy pianos while synthesizers create beats and samples that give an air of “bigger than life”, however, nothing sounds exaggerated. This sound continues to develop, dragging the listener into a deeper and denser universe until a point that would be extremely difficult to get out of there. While in the middle everything sounds great, troubled and distorted, in the end, the instruments lose their hope and energy, still sounding intensely, but now, deeper, more frightening and terrifying, until the final seconds, when a piano comes back with vocals divine. Could this be Stevens’ way of showing us that he still has hope for the world? I think that only time will tell us.