Sufjan Stevens- Carrie and Lowell Album

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By: Cheyenne Heaslet
KTSW Music

Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Album: Carrie & Lowell
Label: Asthmatic Kitty
Release Date: March 31, 2015

Sufjan Stevens Album Cover Courtesy of:
Sufjan Stevens Album Cover
Courtesy of:

Sufjan Stevens’ newest LP should be therapy for anyone dealing with loss. His seventh album, Carrie & Lowell, retreats the eclectic solo artist from the intense orchestration of his previous album, 2011’s electronic heavy “Age of Adz, back to the blissful folk that was so perfectly captured over a decade ago on 2004’s “Seven Swans. The way Stevens exposes himself while overcoming the roller-coaster of emotions following the death of his distant mother in 2012 is both heartbreaking and sincere.

The title of the album refers to Stevens’ mother and father, of which he only lived with for the first year of his life. Carrie left the family after struggling with addiction and mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and felt she couldn’t care for her children the way they deserved (“I’m sorry I left/ It was all for the best, but it never felt right”, Stevens writes from her perspective.). After all of that, we get a feeling that Stevens still has love, and forgives his mother. He remembers her for the time they did have together.

The memories Stevens writes are shared as if we are listening to a man coping with major devastation, in real time, involving a barrage of conflicting emotions. He remembers the joyous summers after Carrie remarried (“Eugene”), but also that it was “bittersweet” because he believes his best days are now behind him. He also remembers her passing with similar emotional tugs (“Fourth of July”), and his parents brief relationship (“Carrie & Lowell”). His song, “Fourth of July”, is particularly painful and beautiful. Stevens recounts Carrie on her deathbed, and features a back and forth between the mother and son. Him referring to her as objects that light up the night sky, and her affectionately calling him a hawk, a dove, and a loon. The end of the song hangs on the repeating revelation, “We’re all gonna die.”

Stevens’ minimalistic approach to Carrie & Lowell draws listeners closer to the personal story of a writer and his family that unfolds over eleven tracks. The instrumentation throughout is superb. Even if at times it seems to be as far in the background as possible, the soft accompaniment does very well complimenting Stevens’ subdued vocal delivery. The album is almost entirely strings and keys. One notable exception is the fantastic “I Should Have Known Better”, which excellently employs a warm synth and the only use of percussion to be found. His signature quiet voice and plucked guitar work perfectly together to form an intimate atmosphere, almost as if you are there for it’s conception.

The subject matter covered by Stevens is an incredibly in-depth look at young life, it’s effect on the present, and inevitable death. The way it is written is very much Sufjan Stevens. He covers faith (“No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”, “John My Beloved”), Oregon history (“Eugene”, “Blue Bucket of Gold”), and his personal hardships dealing with loss (The Only Thing”, “Fourth of July”). Some tracks show Stevens in very dark places (“The only thing keeping me from cutting my arm/Cross hatched, warm bath, Holiday Inn after dark”), but in other memories he is finding beauty with the past (“No I’ll never forget/ I just wanted to be near you”). Sufjan Stevens seems to have suffered a loss of something he isn’t sure ever existed. While listening to this record I have felt pain for him on many levels, but at no point did I ever want to stop.

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