Sufjan Stevens
Javelin


4.0
excellent

Review

by fog CONTRIBUTOR (60 Reviews)
October 8th, 2023 | 618 replies


Release Date: 10/06/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: soaring, levelling, angling down, piercing

I've always felt that Sufjan Stevens is an artist who takes sabbaticals. There's music he makes on commission, in collaboration, or just for the love of it, and then there's albums that communicate more directly and personally to the listener. It is perhaps this restless release pattern which keeps his "bigger" releases vital - for a major figure in the indie scene who rose to prominence in the mid-2000s, Sufjan's work has retained its power and he is still... well essential. Javelin is a bright and bittersweet addition to his enduring legacy, and perhaps his work which speaks most directly about love.

Musically, Javelin seems to borrow from distinct parts of his catalogue - the ghostly vocal swirls and the muscular multicoloured explosions of The Age of Adz jostle with the simple but layered cyclical patterns of Illinois. The songs often build from the bright fingerpicking and melody of Carrie and Lowell. And the subtle electronic shifts of opener 'Goodbye Evergreen' recalls 2020's somewhat underrated The Ascension. Indeed, Javelin's thematic arc almost extends from that prior album's brilliant emotional centrepiece 'Tell Me You Love Me', which explored the conditionality and limits of love (as well as working within the political framework ever present in that work).

Before I was aware of Sufjan's dedication of this album to his partner Evans Richardson (who passed away in April this year), I knew that this was an album laced with sadness. Even though the record's clear but soft production makes each cascade of picked guitar notes feel like lovingly intertwined fingers, Sufjan's voice strains against its small loveliness. No other record in his collection feels as suffused with such immediacy, and this is at its most naked in highlight 'Will Anybody Ever Love Me?'. The song sings back to Sufjan, soft replies or harmonies, layers of flute and banjo, and lush electronic dynamics at the end, but central to it is always his searching, tired vocal. I'm not sure if he could predict how this year would turn out with his diagnosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome and a long road of hard work to regain his life, but coupled with his tragic loss, the song takes on a new meaning and will probably break your heart.

The record does suffer a little in the middle - despite the beautiful production and layering, 'Everything that rises' does sound like the DNA of the song is perhaps too close to other works in his back catalogue, and I would have liked to see a few more songs that didn't follow a similar structure. This album doesn't have as many memorable highlights as 2010's The Age of Adz, although it reads easier as a whole. However, the subtle peak of 'My Red Little Fox' will stand as one of his best - Sufjan finds a ballroom hidden in the act of trying not to hide.

I'm not sure what the final act of '*** Talk' is about, but it does sound like someone saying goodbye; saying they don't want to waste time; saying that life goes on. It's easy to read too much into a song with hindsight, but when I really listen to it, I feel a massive wave pass through me, a sense of earned truth. I'm listening to it now, and I want to hug the person I love a little tighter when she wakes.



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user ratings (258)
3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
fogza
Contributing Reviewer
October 8th 2023


9649 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Heartbreaking, but lovely

anat
Contributing Reviewer
October 8th 2023


5689 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

touching review fog, all very nicely put

Sinternet
October 8th 2023


26511 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

shit talk and a running start are two of his greatest songs ever



i always feel bad that sufjan's best work in the last few years seems so informed by personal tragedy, but i'm glad he at least has an outlet to channel that through that's so expressive and endearing

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
October 8th 2023


47485 Comments


dude has had the worst year possible but his music and all his insta posts are still filled with so much love. honestly don't know how he does it

DoofDoof
October 8th 2023


14520 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Unbelievable album, especially considering circumstances.



A whisker away from 'C&L' quality and thanks to the consistency and emotion I'd rate it just above 'Illinois'.

Ryus
October 8th 2023


36088 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i have a feeling this will grow on me, definite contender for 3rd favorite sufjan after illinois and michigan

DoofDoof
October 8th 2023


14520 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

wowee currently the top two places on the sput 2023 chart are taken by non metal artists - remember this date

theBoneyKing
October 8th 2023


24233 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Sufjan is the king of the ambient coda. This is immediately at least my 2nd fav Sufjan after C&L

BlazinBlitzer
October 8th 2023


2018 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I waited to hear the singles until the full listen for this and So You Are Tired is nothing short of breathtaking. This'll require more listens for sure.

Sowing
Moderator
October 8th 2023


43745 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is a really phenomenal review fog, and I'm glad you ended up being the one to write it. Everything you said about his discography in that opening paragraph is spot on, and you succinctly captured the essence of what makes this album so emotional. Well done.



Shit Talk, My Red Little Fox, Genuflecting Ghost, Will Anybody Ever Love Me?, and Goodbye Evergreen are my top 5 in that order. I agree that this sags a tiny bit in the middle, so I could see a 4 in the future, but right now I'm definitely riding the emotional waves of this thing and Sufjan's heartbreaking announcement.

DoofDoof
October 8th 2023


14520 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Listen five and the last three tracks finally clicked....5 bump

theBoneyKing
October 8th 2023


24233 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I loved the last three on the first go, it’s a neat final movement.

DoofDoof
October 8th 2023


14520 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

that was the only section I didn't think was close to perfect on my early listens, so this has ended up an easy 5 and likely album of the year



'Red Fox' and 'Tired' are possibly my favourites here so I don't hear a middle set slump at all

butt.
October 8th 2023


10879 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I’m just so thankful to have this version of Sufjan back. Love to see he’s still got it.

DoofDoof
October 8th 2023


14520 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

the approach of prominent choir type backing vocals I was unsure of for the first two listens but since then I feel they are what give this album it's overall personality and style, and separate it from 'Seven Swans' and 'C&L'

Sowing
Moderator
October 8th 2023


43745 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I agree. Another C&L styled album in the aftermath of a tragic passing, while certainly understandable, would have felt like a redux from an artistic standpoint. This hits that sweet spot between his folk foundations and the skyward reaching grandiosity of Illinois without feeling like creative purgatory. You can tell he crafted this one with a lot of heart; it's really exactly what fogza alluded to in his intro: there are releases Sufjan puts out on commission or just because, and then there's the stuff that's dear to him. This is the latter.

Hawks
October 8th 2023


84760 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Awesome review for an amazing album. Nice work. m/

Hawks
October 8th 2023


84760 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Also this might be my second fav Sufjan already behind Michigan.

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
October 8th 2023


18791 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yeah i'm not a huge fan of Everything That Rises but I love pretty much everything else. Great review fog

fogza
Contributing Reviewer
October 8th 2023


9649 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

thanks for the positive feedback everyone 🙂



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