Sufjan Stevens
Carrie and Lowell


4.5
superb

Review

by cvlts USER (88 Reviews)
March 28th, 2015 | 13 replies


Release Date: 03/31/2015 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Minimal and agonizingly personal, Sufjan Stevens strips his sound down to the bare essentials to create one of his best works yet.

It’s difficult for me write about this album. I don’t pretend to be a Sufjan Stevens fan and I certainly haven’t followed his material as loyally as some of his fan base has. Out of all his albums, I believe I can name only two (Illinois and Seven Swans). So my knowledge of Stevens and his back catalog is lacking and while I have a general gist of the history of his life as an artist, don’t try putting me through a test to see how much I know about his music… I’d certainly fail.

That being said, there’s no denying that Carrie & Lowell is something special. It forces the listener to hear what it has to say, demanding your undivided attention. Not through aggression or masterful works of complexity, but through the sheer weight of emotion.
Carrie & Lowell is a highly emotional album. Personal ballads about Stevens’ upbringing, seeking of religious solace, and the reconciliation he had with the relationship of his mother, even at the expense of his mental health, are brought up multiple times on the album. At times it can feel like the listener is almost a third wheel; an acquaintance sitting a room between two best friends sharing and confessing their deepest, darkest regrets together, the only thing you can do is stand to the side, slowly nodding your head in feigned understanding.

It’d be a sin to try to psychoanalyze the relationship between Stevens and his mother though Carrie & Lowell alone: various interviews and conversations explain the situation of their relationship clearly enough as flawed, distant, and stressed. The album simply becomes a conduit towards Stevens’ feelings on the matter; and the subject isn’t simply brought up sparingly, it’s the entire crux of the album. It would certainly be reason enough to explain the minimalistic vulnerability that the album has. The very first track on the album “Death with Dignity” paints a clear picture as Stevens softy proclaims “I forgive you mother, I can hear you and I want to be near you. But every road leads to an end.” The album itself is blunt in conveying its message and this is a welcome breath of fresh air, side stepping any complex message that might obscure what Stevens is trying to say. Everything is laid out bare for everyone to see.

The variation felt on Carrie & Lowell is admittedly minute yet subtle. Raw tape recordings where outside elements such as the buzzing of cars and the hum of air conditioning can be heard in the background (“No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”), to multilayered vocal/electronic harmonizing over a simple acoustic guitar (“Should Have Known Better”) harken back to 90s lo-fi indie and sees Sufjan Stevens channeling his inner-Elliott Smith; hell, “Drawn to the Blood” is a near copy/paste of “Needle in the Hay”, Stevens’ spidery whispered vocals singing “How" God of Elijah, how"” over hushed guitar chords that channel Smith’s vocal delivery to a tee. While this approach has been done by Stevens before in his Seven Swans album, there’s a distinct stripped minimalism that lends a heavy sense of personality towards the listen that sometimes lacked in the near concept album that Seven Swans was.

No, this isn’t Stevens at his darkest: it’s him at his most vulnerable. Vulnerability is a trait highly overlooked in today’s music industry yet still one of the most powerful conveyors of emotion that an artist can possess. It’s what made artists like Nick Drake and Mark Linkous so highly beloved in their tragically short careers and it radiates in spades on Carrie & Lowell. A welcome return to form, stripping down all the glitz and glamour to reveal that ultimately Sufjan still wars with his emotions like the rest of us.



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user ratings (1333)
Chart.
4.2
excellent
other reviews of this album
SowingSeason STAFF (5)
“This is not my art project. This is my life.”...

Iusedtoomanycharacte (5)
Sufjan's most personal and bare album is also easily his best....

ChronicSmiler (4.5)
We're all gonna die....

fogza (5)
Sufjan Stevens' latest album is as close to a physical album as can be achieved....



Comments:Add a Comment 
GnarlyShillelagh
Emeritus
March 28th 2015


6386 Comments


this is not hardcore

GnarlyShillelagh
Emeritus
March 28th 2015


6386 Comments


= shit review isaac

cvlts
March 28th 2015


9424 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

hahaha sput cred gonna take a hit with this one

hogan900
Contributing Reviewer
March 29th 2015


2598 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Great review man. Been listening to this a lot lately, Fourth of July brings the feels for me.

VheissuCrisis
Emeritus
March 29th 2015


1368 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Good stuff Dante, we've similar thoughts on this album.

cvlts
March 29th 2015


9424 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks guys. Never really was a big fan of Stevens but this album has changed my mind big time

Ignimbrite
March 29th 2015


6225 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This is a goodass review, Dante.

Digging: Converge - The Dusk in Us

TheBarber
March 29th 2015


3581 Comments


is this 2015's Benji?

Digging: Mamaleek - Via Dolorosa

YakNips
March 29th 2015


18944 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

wayyyyyy better than benji

SowingSeason
Moderator
March 29th 2015


25036 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Nice review. Like VheissuCrisis said, we also seem to share some similar thoughts on this. I've had something written for this but I'm waiting to submit until Omaha has a chance because he dibbed. If nothing by tomorrow morning I might drop mine just to hold things over.



Very few albums instantly impact me the way this did. A future 5, no doubt.

Digging: Brand New - Science Fiction

BigPleb
March 30th 2015


51480 Comments


Is this a hard tear jerker?

tommygun
March 30th 2015


26710 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

yea

Gyromania
April 27th 2015


23437 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

this is an excellent review that i missed.



going to see him in detroit in just a few hours!



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