Sufjan Stevens
Carrie and Lowell


5.0
classic

Review

by fog CONTRIBUTOR (60 Reviews)
September 10th, 2015 | 20 replies


Release Date: 2015 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Sufjan Stevens' latest album is as close to a physical album as can be achieved.

Can our old favourites surprise us? A friend of mine once said that everyone has a finite amount of good songs in them. On Sufjan Stevens' seventh album, I’ve discovered something new and surprising about the man who wrote ‘Chicago’ – and I feel richer for it.

Carrie and Lowell chronicles Sufjan’s difficult upbringing which I never knew existed – previous releases had sounded simultaneously earnest and exuberant. I’d always pictured him as an elven creature with a knack for expanding on simple refrains with ever more crafty arrangement and layering. Of course I had encountered the solemn ‘Seven swans’ album, but even that one touched on various musical styles and felt as if it was a collection of killer singles unified by a theme.

Carrie and Lowell goes far as a document of the damaged relationship between an unstable mother and a son looking for love, but the brilliance of the album is the way it contextualises the memories and feelings addressed. I feel like I’m looking at someone’s precious, aged family photos – spots of sunlight obscure my vision as I picture a family vacation evoked by the picked chords of ‘Eugene’. I could also be learning to swim at the communal pool. I can see the blue light of a hospital room during the album’s centrepiece ‘Fourth of July’. I truly hope no-one diminishes the song to heighten the impact of a deathbed scene in a TV series.

There is such cohesion in this music – it serves the lyrical content beautifully. All delicate guitar picking, and piano that changes like light at all times of the day and night. When the strings appear, they do not announce themselves; they spring from the ground or a passing cloud. They are insistent though; like a shadow that cannot be separated from the living.

The lyrics are monumental. The more searing emotional content conjures feelings of the Eels’ ‘Electro Shock Blues’, but Sufjan sees things from all angles. Even the anger here is considered, something that must be displayed as part of the healing process, but not something to wallow in. When I talk of learning something, I mean it – I feel I am a better person for hearing this.

If one is critical, you could complain of ‘sameness’, but on repeated listening, I hear new precious musical passages. The rapturous coda of ‘Should have known better’ is just one such moment. Sufjan finds solace in the birth of his brother’s daughter, and the finale is pure joy. Warm keyboard notes dip in with the subtle electronics heightening the feeling of spring and new beginnings. Grief and happiness are seasonal, and Sufjan has illustrated this with his exceptional melodic ability and the most sparing application of instrumentation.

In all this directness, the album also delivers one cryptic, beautiful song which stands with the collection or on its own. The enigmatic ‘Drawn to the blood’ is the best song I’ve heard this year. When Sufjan whispers out ‘head of a rabbit’ and ‘heart of a dragon’ over thumb strummed chords that appear from all places in the listener’s room, I have no doubts these words are not window dressing. Can someone provide us with unflinching honesty and yet preserve some mystery? I suppose seven albums in, Sufjan can still do so. I am grateful.



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user ratings (1864)
4.3
superb
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Iamthe Nightstars
September 10th 2015


2964 Comments


What's the best album to start with by this guy?

Ryus
September 10th 2015


34818 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

start chronologically from michigan (including all delighted people), then check the other two if youre up for it. i personally really like enjoy your rabbit, but i'm not so big on a sun came.



psandy
September 11th 2015


280 Comments


3.0 how :'(

Ryus
September 11th 2015


34818 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

i don't connect with this album. just pretty standard indie-folk stuff to me, but it's pretty pleasant, so 3.0



my least favorite of his since his debut

Gyromania
September 11th 2015


36766 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

easily my aoty

wtferrothorn
September 11th 2015


5849 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Sitting at a comfy #2 for me

deadcrown
September 11th 2015


922 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

^what's your number 1 then? just curious

wtferrothorn
September 11th 2015


5849 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Clarence Clarity - No Now

deadcrown
September 11th 2015


922 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I checked that out and I like it so far

fogza
Contributing Reviewer
September 11th 2015


9328 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I'd start with Illinois, it's his most instantly likable album. I'm not a massive fan of his electronic stuff.

wtferrothorn
September 11th 2015


5849 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Yeah, Illinois would be the best place to start. While Age Of Adz may be my fave from him, Illinois is more accessible and gives you more of an idea of his overall style.

GhettoHmbrglr
September 11th 2015


1022 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

album goes hard

SaveYourBreath
September 11th 2015


211 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Saw him live recently, he redoes parts of these tracks for the whole band, which was awesome. But the parts where it was just him and his guitar, actually heartbreaking.



He turned My Blue Bucket Of Gold into a 17 minute long ambient track though, with lights and everything, it was breathtaking.

cagedbutterfly
September 12th 2015


584 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is such a great album. For some reason I find it hard to get into the other sufjan albums. But not this one.

Pheromone
May 3rd 2022


20811 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this album is so comforting and special



just like a fogza review thread

fogza
Contributing Reviewer
May 3rd 2022


9328 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Awwwwww you so sweet

Pangea
October 17th 2023


10226 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Omg i didn't know this has a fogza review! Love you fogza

fogza
Contributing Reviewer
October 17th 2023


9328 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Love you too pan pan!

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
October 17th 2023


26906 Comments


I never get far into this album, the two first songs don't do much for me

Pangea
October 17th 2023


10226 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

First 2 are so good though!!



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