April 11, 2015


Sufjan Stevens Reflects on God and Death on 'Carrie & Lowell' : Sufjan Stevens' new album is an honest, emotional look at loss, faith and lament. (Mack Hayden, March 31, 2015, Relevant)

Nearly all Stevens' records operate around a central concept, and it's deeply saddening that the central theme of this one is the death of his mother. Grief soaks every ballad here--the emotion met perfectly with instrumentation and lyricism just subtle and honest enough to portray how heartbreaking this experience was to him. In past interviews, Stevens has referred to how he wasn't that close to his mother, and in track after track on this album, you can feel the pain of losing someone he already lost in large part years ago.

He speaks the language of belief in a vocabulary just foreign enough to shed light on new nooks and crannies.

He's also back to predominately telling stories and painting pictures of a spiritually enlivened mundanity. Where The Age of Adz specialized in impressionistic ally writing about anxiety, Carrie & Lowell uses word pictures just specific and just vague enough to ground us both in Stevens' life as well as our own.

There are references to being left at a video store when he was three or four, learning to swim from an instructor who calls him Subaru, and memories called up by the Fourth of July.

It's that last one (detailed in a song plainly titled "Fourth of July") which may be the record's true standout. Over ethereal soundscapes, a lilting piano chord progression anchors Stevens' remembrance of the events and conversations immediately preceding his mother's death. In the midst of asking her questions about what life has taught her, calling her pet names and dealing with hospital workers, he repeatedly intones "We're all gonna die."

This is the general theme of the record: the looming presence of the reaper's scythe ready to take us all and most of our friends and family before we go. There comes a time when grief will become one of the most common tunes sung in everyone's life, and, luckily, we now have an entire album of songs to teach us how to sing that unfortunate medley.

The first single off the album, "No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross," proved early on this was to be no conventional hymnal. The title of that song should give you an idea of its content but you could argue it's no more blasphemous than the book of Job (though it does employ the use of particularly strong language and some profanity).

Posted by at April 11, 2015 8:12 AM

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