Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell – Review
The last time we heard from Sufjan Stevens, it was on the swirling electronic odyssey “Age Of Adz”. Featuring his most ambitious and densely arranged songs yet, it was a complete sensory overload of an album. After releasing such a record that represented the culmination of his music so far and ended with the epic 25 minute magnum opus “Impossible Soul”, where would he go next? Instead of sonically drifting off further beyond Earth and into space it seems as if the next step for Stevens was to withdraw and retreat to release his most grounded album yet, “Carrie & Lowell”.
For this album Sufjan drops the bombast of “Age Of Adz” and leaves behind his ensemble for a sound that’s as intimate as the lyrics. The songs all feature very minimal and spacious arrangements which only serve to enhance the emptiness expressed throughout the album. There are no lavish strings and synths to hide behind this time. Despite this “paired-down” sound Sufjan still manages to create stunningly beautiful and ethereal compositions on little more than a guitar or piano. Whilst listening it is hard to not to be amazed by how achingly gorgeous “Carrie & Lowell” is, whether it be the surprise piano in the opening song “Death With Dignity” or the reverb soaked “Fourth Of July”.
Whilst Stevens’ has touched upon his own life in his music before, he has never made an album as personal and introspective as “Carrie & Lowell”. The “Carrie” in the album title is Stevens’ mother, who died in 2012 after a battle with cancer. Many lyrics on the album center around the troubled relationship between Stevens and his mother and coming to terms with her loss. It’s an unflinchingly painful album, sadness and regret permeate throughout as Stevens recounts his few childhood memories of his mother and the feelings of loneliness as he copes with his grief and searches for solace. Self-harm, suicide and alcoholism are all referenced during it’s course. There are very few moments of respite, though light does shine in during the second half of “Should Have Known Better” in which Stevens’ describes his brother’s daughter as “illumination”. I defy anyone not to be moved by the devastating and harrowing lyrics. Whether it be Sufjans’ delicate whisper of “I just want to be near you” on “Eugene” or the heartbreaking account of his mother’s last moments on “Fourth Of July”, it’s not an album to listen to in public.
Overall “Carrie & Lowell” is endlessly beautiful and captivating. It’s an unforgettable rumination on loss and grief and is perhaps Sufjan Stevens’ best album so far.