My first listen to Slow Dakota’s The Ascension of Slow Dakota was while getting ready for work in the morning. I soon found myself seated on my bed near the computer with my toothbrush still in my mouth, wholly absorbed by the story on the first track — the story of a human and an angel who borrows a song from the former to present to God in a contest. The Ascension of Slow Dakota is rich in its influences and finds PJ Sauerteig (Slow Dakota) employing various mediums of expression. Alongside songs, one will find flash fiction, spoken word, poetry, prose, parables and so on. In doing so, he references ancient times when poetry and music weren’t separated but rather poetry was sung to its audience. Not only are its mediums inspired by the past, most of the songs are in a baroque style, occasionally wading into pop territory. The literary heroes who inspired the actual subject material — Whitman, Blake, and Kafka — are also characters featured in the stories.
All of this sounds pretty heady, but it’s equally important to note that as much as The Ascension of Slow Dakota stretches upwards, it also stretches outward towards humanity. Walt Whitman ponders the sunrise from the view of his airplane seat but then has sex with a flight attendant. The storyteller has breakfast with William Blake, who only orders coffee. Neighbors who lend a hand in the midst of disaster are designated “Magi”, and Christ Himself is found crying in regret for making himself too accessible, “I should have made my book exclusive and only sold in SoHo stores / Bouncers at the golden doors / Then a great big line would form / A bigger line than heaven’s had for years…”. For this reason, Slow Dakota’s work has always felt reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens’ to me. Both possess a staggering gift for reconciling God and man but also recognizing the divine in the everyday.
As this is likely Sauerteig’s final album as Slow Dakota, in true endearingly theatrical Slow Dakota fashion, he makes his exit via “slow ascension” from a pigsty. In all honesty, after a couple of weeks of listening and reading and asking questions, I’ve concluded that his ascension is deserved. This album is a culmination of all the reasons that I appreciate Slow Dakota so deeply and believe his concept albums should be celebrated. With deep reverence for both beauty and intellect, Sauerteig is a gifted storyteller and a sincere songwriter. His albums are meticulously crafted, and he deposits so much of himself and what he loves inside his songs. I encourage you to be a thoughtful listener and dig into Slow Dakota’s discography, but most urgently into The Ascension of Slow Dakota.