sufjan3. Sufjan Stevens
Carrie & Lowell
[Asthmatic Kitty]

In 2010, The Age of Adz saw Sufjan Stevens trade in his folk roots for wildly atypical electronics. Five years later, Carrie & Lowell returns to his melancholic acoustics and offers up the most deeply personal album of his career. Named after Stevens’ estranged mother and stepfather (who is also the co-founder of the Asthmatic Kitty label), Carrie & Lowell is an album of very specific anguish, charting Stevens’ emotions after the death of his mother and carefully piecing together the emotionally raw story of a troubled mother and son. The resulting portrait makes no attempt to hide the fact that Stevens’ draws on patchwork memories to create a more complete impression of a mother he never knew well. The honesty in that act alone sets Carrie & Lowell apart and only complements the music’s hazy mysticism.

carrielowellThere are very specific anecdotes told and moments that manifest immeasurable sadness in subdued instrumentation. Death itself is a driving force on all 11 tracks, yet from such a painful subject, Stevens crafts impossibly beautiful songs. Whether it’s “Death with Dignity”’s rumination on an inevitable end or when that inevitable end is captured through metaphor in the fleeting glow of fireworks on “Fourth of July,” the certainty of death gives way (as with much of Stevens’ catalog) to thoughts on the mysteries and bigger questions of life. It’s a cliché at this point to point out that listening to Stevens’ music inspires a pure appreciation of a world made all the more beautiful for the pain that reminds us we exist, but Carrie & Lowell reminds us just how true that cliché is.

The album’s vulnerable, bitterly anguished lyrics are made all the more distraught by Stevens’ muted arrangements. Gone is any hint of elaborate orchestration. Most tracks are carried by gentle guitar plucking or simple piano chords whose repetitiveness is hypnotic and sadly soothing. The somber endeavor leans toward catharsis, and Stevens’ hushed vocals betray a creeping acceptance and growing forgiveness with each track. And although religious allegories still populate Stevens’ songwriting, even the album’s most obtuse and abstract lines come from a place of such wounded sincerity. – Katherine Springer

Pages 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

The Turning Point: Albums (and Bands) We’ve Changed Our Minds On

We can all still learn a lot from anyone willing to look deep inside themselves and examin…