Sufjan Stevens eight studio album ‘Carrie & Lowell’ was released in 2015 and met with acclaim from pretty much everyone. I got into his work whilst in college, starting with the massive and brilliant album ‘Illinois‘ and then ‘Seven Swans‘. I kind of came across him because of his work with The National too, but either way, I’m glad I did. In the past, Stevens has done some pretty far out stuff, such as his album ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit‘ which makes no sense to me. With ‘Carrie & Lowell‘ however it is much more direct indie folk like the music he made when he first came on the scene.
Stevens say’s that of the album that it “I fell deeper and deeper into doubt and misery. It was a year of real darkness”. He also says that with he previous work he felt he got something in return, but not with this record. That comes across throughout the album as the tone, sound and vocals are downbeat and faded. The album opener ‘Death With Dignity’, as with many of the tracks, is beautiful to hear. Stevens change in pace and vocal range makes for a seemingly sad song but there is also a hopeful edge as the piano sheds some light on the track. His unique voice is highlighted with this track in particular. ‘Should Have Know Better’ is one of the best tracks on the album in my opinion. A song about his mother’s death and how he didn’t grieve, the song has that regretful theme before turning slightly more lighthearted when he sings about new life. It was also released as a single. Here are some lyrics from the song:
“I should have know better
Nothing can be changed
The past is still the past
The bridge to nowhere
I should have wrote a letter
Explaining what I feel, that empty feeling”
The following track, ‘All Of Me Wants All Of You’ is a love song where Stevens adds a little ‘ohh’ to the end of every few lines and it’s interesting how something so simple can bring that feeling of wanting with it. So simple, so smart. ‘Drawn To The Blood’ makes reference to Stevens religion and faith and how he feels let down because of the tragedy he is facing. The album is built around his reflections on the death of his mother and I guess with this track he is looking for answers. ‘Eugene’ is another song about looking back, this time to his childhood. As the next track, ‘Fourth Of July’ beings, as I’m playing the album through, I’m reminded of why Stevens is unique. His stuff is just so fucking good. His albums are like an amazing chocolate cake, he knows all the right ingredients. He even put sprinkles on top! ‘The Only Thing’ begins like many of the other songs on the album but that repetition doesn’t become annoying or get boring. The vocals are soft and there is a little electric guitar towards the end. You’ve to really listen to these songs and its vocals to get its value. The structure of the songs are as simple as they were on ‘Seven Swans’ but that’s just the way it is. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
‘Carrie & Lowell’ picks up the pace of the album and I gather that it is another song in which Stevens reflects on his youth and his mother. This track was also released as a single. The 9th track, ‘John My Beloved’ is an absolutely beautiful track, one of his best in my opinion. A weary up and down change in vocals brings it to life and in a sense it’s the most melodic track on the album. Very very easy to listen to. In ‘No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross’ Stevens sings “Fuck me I’m falling apart” as he details his demise after his mother’s death. It’s short and direct so you get the message pretty quickly. The final track is ‘Blue Bucket Of Gold’ and it’s another pretty short one. He seems to be searching for someone to fill the void left by his mother. This comes across in the chorus as he sings-
“Raise your right hand
Tell me you want me in your life
Or raise your red flag
Just when I want you in my life”
It’s a solid end to the album but you can’t help but feel he didn’t get the answer he was looking for by creating the album, as he had stated in the snippet I included earlier.
I should probably do more reviews of Sufjan Stevens work because it’s so diverse. You also need to be in the right place to be able to listen to one of his records straight through. Some records work when you’re just walking down the street, others are best kept for the less rosy moments of your life. You need to invest the time in a way. However, it is time well spent. Thanks for being miserable Sufjan!
Photo Credit: music.stevens.com