By: Owen Fugit
Singer-songwriting sensation Ed Sheeran is back with a new album for the second time this year. However, the new album, entitled Autumn Variations, was released with much less fanfare and action than Subtract earlier this year. Released on Sept. 29, the new album features 14 songs with themes ranging from depression to love. Sheeran released the album through his own record label, Gingerbread Man Records. It marks his first release without the help of a major studio.
Without major studio pressure demanding big returns, Sheeran had the freedom to open up and sing songs true to his own life and true to the lives of people around him. In an interview with CBS, Sheeran explained, “You just have to be like, ‘I don’t care what people think,” in reference to the lack of pressure. Sheeran also said that he has always wanted to make a record more similar to the records of singers he enjoys listening to, such as Jack Johnson, and to create something more personal, even if he loses out on the big hits fans have grown accustomed to.
Each song on Autumn Variations tells a story, and the most popular song from the album exemplifies this storytelling ideal. Titled American Town, the song details Sheeran’s life with his wife Cherry Seaborn when Seaborn lived in New York City. Slow and emotional, the song steadily gets stronger as the track progresses, dropping after the bridge.
The quiet release of Autumn Variations was something Sheeran said is necessary for all artists. Sheeran explained that he believes that ups and downs define a good career and that an artist’s career cannot always be bigger and better until they run out of algorithmic pop songs: “You just can’t go like this [on an upward trajectory] for your entire career. You have to have moments of just doing things because you want to do them,” and releasing his album on his own record label allows him to do just that. For Sheeran, this means that although his album will be less popular, he gets to be more personal.
Produced with the help of the talented multi-instrumentalist Aaron Dessner, the album has a raw and natural sound that shines the spotlight on Sheeran and his friends’ experiences and worldviews. Dessner combines the timeless sound of the acoustic guitar with Sheeran’s trademark vocals to extract a new tone from a singer most people know for ultra-produced smash hits. “When I went through a difficult time at the start of last year, writing songs helped me understand my feelings…” said Sheeran. The album is powerful and gentle at the same time, confidently exposing Sheeran’s fears and dark thoughts in a way fans have never experienced before.
(Sources: CBS, Genius, Gingerbread Man Records, Pitchfork)