Hot on the heels of his Rumspringa EP released in October, indie-folk troubadour Slow Dakota (AKA PJ Sauerteig) has just released a new track of high-brow dulcimer delight with “Areopagitica.”
This new track continues in the style Sauerteig began to develop with his 2016 full-length album The Ascension of Slow Dakota, melding elements of spoken word poetry, traditional folk music, and baroque pop to craft a lushly textured yet simplistic sound that belies the highly intellectual nature of the subject matter of the lyrics.
The name Areopagetica is taken from an essay written by John Milton in 1644. Milton’s essay was written as a critique of government censorship and an affirmation of the paramount importance of freedom of the press. Slow Dakota’s reimagining of “Areopagetica” follows in that same vein, inspired by Sauerteig’s own experiences with censorship in the American school system. Slow Dakota’s approach is undeniably academic, both in its style and substance. The lyrical themes allude to Sauerteig’s Ivy League education, both in its contemporary social topics and reverence for literary protest history. Sonically, Slow Dakota evokes a kind of detached intellectualism that draws exclusively from old-world music traditions. The track opens with the strumming of dulcimers, with the faintest layer of synthesizer melody filling out the sound. Sauerteig’s swaying voice comes to the focus as he relates a narrative of his school days, supported by the more feminine sounds of Jaq King’s backing vocals. The song continues to build upon its textured atmosphere as more layers are subtly added. Piano, acoustic guitars, and even some whistling (also courtesy of Jaq King) bring new depth to the track with the addition of each layered instrument, and the drumming drives the growing momentum as Sauerteig introduces increasingly dramatic percussion with each new verse before the climaxing crescendo.
On the inspiration for “Areopagetica”, Slow Dakota had this to say: “The song is actually a scathing critique of censorship and the banning of books – specifically in American schools. The name of the song – Areopagitica – is taken from an amazing, amazing essay written by John Milton: it’s his own rebuke of government censorship, and a celebration of free expression / open exchange of ideas. Milton wrote it back in 1644, but it’s sadly prescient to read today. I never, ever write political songs – but books, man, books.”