After promising he had "new holistic music coming this week," Sufjan Stevens has announced a new five-volume ambient album, Convocations. He performed, recorded, mixed, and produced the album's 49 tracks (spanning two and a half hours) himself, and it follows his 2020 releases The Ascension and Aporia (the latter another ambient release he collaborated with his stepfather, Asthmatic Kitty co-founder Lowell Brams, on). Here's the album description, written by Grayson Haver Currin:

It may be tempting to reduce Convocations into a longform ambient anomaly within Sufjan Stevens’ vast catalogue. It is, however, neither an anomaly nor entirely ambient. This is not a side project. From his numerous dance scores for New York City Ballet to instrumental albums such as Enjoy Your Rabbit, Aporia, and The BQE, Stevens spends at least half his working life making largely instrumental music, as he has for decades. And though the first ten pieces, dubbed “Meditations,” unfurl as gorgeous states of reflective new-age grace, this is by no means an ambient enterprise. Stevens invokes the lessons of Morton Subotnick, Maryanne Amacher, Christian Fennesz, Brian Eno, and Wolfgang Voigt here. As musically erudite as it is emotionally experienced, Convocations can be dissonant, vertiginous, rhythmic, repetitive, urgent, or calm—that is, all the things we undergo when we inevitably live through loss, isolation, and anxiety.

Indeed, Convocations moves like a two-and-a-half-hour requiem mass for our present times of difficulty, its 49 tracks allowing for all these feelings to be felt. The album is divided into five sonic cycles, each replicating a different stage of mourning. Convocations occasionally soothes and sometimes hurts; when it’s done, you’re left with a renewed sense of wonder for being here at all.

In fact, Stevens made Convocations in response to (and as an homage to) the life and death of his father, who died in September last year, two days following the release of The Ascension. It is, then, ultimately an album about loss, and an album that reflects a year in which we have all lost so much. One could easily compare this project to Stevens’ album Carrie & Lowell, which he wrote following his mother’s death. But this is something entirely different. A new time, a new season, a new life lost, a new reckoning, a new kind of isolation, grief, despair, frustration, confusion, and the search for happiness and hope for the future. This is not a personal record, but a universal one. Convocations is built on a shared experience that seeks to be honest about how complicated grief can be in these difficult times—the pain, the anxiety, the unknown, the absolute joy of memory. This is also an album made in lockdown, when we were all cloistered in whatever space we had. So long as the science and statistics hold, Convocations arrives just as we begin to emerge from a year whose losses we will calculate for a lifetime. It is, then, right on time, as we begin to process our grief and try to carry on with it.

Convocations is due out in full on May 6, and the first volume, Meditation, comes out Thursday April 8. Hear a track from that, "Meditation V," which recalls the sonic palette The Ascension, below.

Sufjan Stevens - Convocations Tracklisting
1. Meditation I
2. Meditation II
3. Meditation III
4. Meditation IV
5. Meditation V
6. Meditation VI
7. Meditation VII
8. Meditation VIII
9. Meditation IV
10. Meditation X
11. Lamentation I
12. Lamentation II
13. Lamentation III
14. Lamentation IV
15. Lamentation V
16. Lamentation VI
17. Lamentation VII
18. Lamentation VIII
19. Lamentation IX
20. Lamentation X
21. Revelation I
22. Revelation II
23. Revelation III
24. Revelation IV
25. Revelation V
26. Revelation VI
27. Revelation VII
28. Revelation VIII
29. Revelation IX
30. Revelation X
31. Celebration I
32. Celebration II
33. Celebration III
34. Celebration IV
35. Celebration V
36. Celebration VI
37. Celebration VII
38. Celebration VIII
39. Celebration IX
40. Celebration X
41. Incantation I
42. Incantation II
43. Incantation III
44. Incantation IV
45. Incantation V
46. Incantation VI
47. Incantation VII
48. Incantation VIII
49. Incantation IX