Even though he is through with mathematical album titles, Ed Sheeran is still practicing the art of addition. The suddenly prolific recording artist will soon be adding to his catalog the second new album he’s released in 2023… the second in six months, in fact. Sheeran announced Thursday that “Autumn Variations,” a collection he’s been teasing on social media, will be out Sept. 29.
Like “-” (“Subtract”), which came out on May 5, this follow-up was produced by Aaron Dessner, the guitarist for the National, who has stayed busy doing projects with Taylor Swift and Gracie Abrams as well as Sheeran.
It doesn’t look as if Sheeran will be touring behind the album per se, at least not immediately in America; he made a choice to release the new set a week after the U.S. leg of his Mathematics World Tour wraps up at L.A.’s SoFi Stadium Sept. 23.
When Sheeran released “-” in May, he talked about how he had originally planned to release a different set of songs under that long-planned title, but deaths and serious illness among his family and friends forced him in a different direction with the sobering new songs that were coming to him. The immediate suspicion upon hearing that Sheeran is releasing a new album so soon after “-” might be is that he is going back into his bag of unreleased material, then. But that’s not the case, he made clear in an explanation of the concept for “Autumn Variations,” which appears to have been wholly newly written in the last year — especially last fall — as part of the same burst of creativity with Dessner that generated the last album.
“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,” said Sheeran in his 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,” he continued, “and when I learned about my friends’ 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.
“My dad and brother told me about a composer called Elgar, who composed ‘Enigma Variations’, where each of the 14 compositions were about a different one of his friends. This is what inspired me to make this album. 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. 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.”
Apart from announcing a 14-song track list, Sheeran also revealed the album cover, which is filled with small illustrations of things Sheeran associates with the fall season, or his experiences therein: “changing trees,” “old coats,” “rough tides,” “dreams of spring,” “football,” “bad news” (with a gravestone drawing), “nights getting longer” and “serenity” among them.
“Autumn Variations” track list:
4. Plastic Bag
6. American Town
7. That’s on Me
12. When Will I Be Alright
13. The Day I Was Born
14. Head > Heels