Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

sufjanRating: ★★★★½

For years now Sufjan Stevens has been a household name, a staple when it comes to indie rock with both art and folk influences. While he has carved out his own space in terms of genre, defining himself with distinction, his sound has manifested itself in varying directions under the umbrella of his sound. Carrie & Lowell is a deeply personal retreat back into the quietest reaches of Sufjan Stevens‘ musical spectrum, one that enchants and charms with its elegant lyrics and gentle sound.

Nothing that Sufjan Stevens ever does musically is simple. After more than a decade of releases from this man it’s fairly easy to make this statement, but when you listen to this album, the effortlessness of the music is what is striking and powerfully emotional. Upon first listen, it’s sort of difficult to truly grasp just what you’ve got your hands on, as Stevens’ style is exceedingly graceful and smooth. Yes, it sounds lush and gorgeous, his whisper of a voice uttering euphonious lyrics atop often just one other musical element, be it the plucking of a guitar or a bouncing piano part; the sound is akin to that you would hear in a gentle lullaby. While the sound is soothing, it’s also deeply haunting, but this is the quality that you perhaps don’t truly and totally latch onto on your first go round.

But on your second or third pass through the album, or maybe even once you’ve reached the final track on Carrie & Lowell, you begin to feel exactly what Sufjan wants you to through his arrangements of indie folk. Tracks like “Should Have Known Better,” and “All of Me Wants All of You” are sing-songy, the lyrics are subtle but brilliant, giving you one liners that come across like poetry “I should have known better/ nothing can be changed/ the past is still the past/ the bridge to nowhere.” And then there are the deeply dark tracks like “Fourth Of July,” and “No Shade In The Shadow of The Cross.” The former of this pair is a gut-wrenching track in which Stevens traverses through memories of his fallen mother, uttering what sounds to be pet names amidst the other images of her last days. The latter is emotionally distressful and you can hear the desperation behind the lyrics: “I’ll drive that stake through the center of my heart,” or “fuck me, I’m falling apart.” Here he is, emotionally and musically raw, spilling his soul to you like he would the pages of his journal, but these things are brilliant and apt, reaching out to you through your headphones or from the speakers of your car or stereo.

There’s not a song on this album that you’ll ever want to skip: they all fit together like melancholy powerful puzzle pieces of Stevens’ life and childhood that he has retrospectively assembled to reveal he’s missing some vital pieces. Carrie & Lowell, as melancholy as it is, is a mighty work of art, one that I’ll be revisiting again and again.


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