There’s a chill in the air. Starbucks employees everywhere are cracking open cases of pumpkin and apple brown sugar syrups. There’s a sudden urge to spend unreasonable amounts of money on books and stationary supplies, even if it won’t curb the incoming seasonal depression. Autumn is rapidly approaching, and Ed Sheeran has prepared an entire album of new material specifically for the occasion. Less than four months after the release of his sixth studio album Subtract, the singer and songwriter has announced the forthcoming Aaron Dessner-produced record Autumn Variations, out Sept. 29.
“Last autumn, I found that my friends and I were going through so many life changes. After the heat of the summer, everything either calmed, settled, fell apart, came to a head, or imploded,” Sheeran shared in a statement. “When I went through a difficult time at the start of last year, writing songs helped me understand my feelings and come to terms with what was going on.”
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He added: “When I learned about my friend’s different situations, I wrote songs, some from their perspectives, some from mine, to capture how they and I viewed the world at that time. There were highs of falling in love and new friendships among lows of heartbreak, depression, loneliness, and confusion.”
Autumn Variations was inspired by Enigma Variations, an orchestral work from composer Edward Elgar created between October 1898 and February 1899. The 14 compositions each reflected a different figure in Elgar’s life. Sheeran’s father and brother first introduced the project to him, and he saw it as a fitting medium to repackage the revelations that emerged from those conversations with his friends.
“When I recorded Subtract with Aaron Dessner, we clicked immediately. We wrote and recorded non-stop and this album was born out of that partnership,” Sheeran added. “I feel he has captured the feeling of autumn so wonderfully in his sonics and I hope everyone loves it as much as I do.”
Similarly to Enigma Variations, Sheeran’s Autumn Variations also features 14 songs. The record will arrive one week after his Mathematics world tour concludes its North American leg, fittingly on the first day of autumn. Gingerbread Man Records, the label founded by Sheeran in partnership with Warner Music Group in 2015, will release the album.
Autumn Variations represents a continuation of Sheeran’s collaborative partnership with Dessner, which began with the help of some matchmaking from Taylor Swift. “There’s no filter. There wasn’t any going back and checking on any lyrics,” Sheeran told Rolling Stone earlier this year about Dessner’s creative process. “And I think that’s what was brilliant about Folklore and Evermore — it’s just complete brain-to-page. That’s where you get lines like, ‘When I felt like I was an old cardigan under someone’s bed, you put me on and said I was your favorite.’ There wasn’t anyone challenging that line. And that’s why it’s brilliant.”
It was around that time, in the lead-up to Subtract, that Sheeran first began to tease this additional album. Three songs from those sessions were pulled from the project when the musician realized they represented the beginning of something else. “It was very quickly seen that we were making two different things,” Sheeran said. This entirely separate second album formed with Dessner and was in the process of being mixed, but neither artist had any plans for when it would arrive. “I have no goals for the record,” he added. “I just want to put it out.”
In the lead-up to the announcement, Sheeran teased the album through a series of social media posts. Three weeks ago, he went full Tumblr-chaos when he posted a photo of himself standing near a path covered in orange leaves, except the leaves are actually just tiny photos of himself. His hair blends in so well that it takes a second to catch it, especially if you’re scrolling by too quickly.
In another teaser, Sheeran took on the role of a mulch and baked beans salesman. “Now, anyone trapped somewhere with great weather and long sunny days can finally celebrate the beauty of this enchanting season: overwhelming grey,” he pitches. “Do your bit and help those who are truly missing out on an abundance of misery!”
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