With any announcement of a ‘Sufjan Stevens’ album the inevitable questions are once again asked. What genre is it this time? Will there be a mention of star people? Will we hear delicate strings or a bevy of processed hip-hop beats (see previous release ‘The Age of Adz’)? In truth, Stevens 20 year career back catalogue is a mishmash of genres that sometimes work but occasionally leave you wondering if you’re even listening to the correct album.
However, 2015’s offering is a defining moment for the Detroit-born, Brooklyn-based artist. ‘Carrie & Lowell’ has given Stevens the opportunity to reflect on the skeletons in his cupboard and come to terms with the death of his mother. Considering the subject matter the artist as done both with aplomb and in the process created this year’s stand-out release.
‘Carrie & Lowell’ is not only a personal homage to his mother who died in 2012 but also an opportunity for the artist to reflect upon his own journey from boy to man. The LP’s cover shows a cracked aging photograph of Stevens’ mother and stepfather (who now works at Stevens’ label, ‘Asthmatic Kitty’) leaving you in no doubt of the personal subject matter contained within its sleeve. Grief and the loss of a relative is poignantly dealt with in heart-breaking verse, hushed vocals and minimal instrumentation. Everything is done in a tender and almost respectful manner, using delicately plucked guitars and engaging piano to create a tone and mood that lead you to contemplate your own life and the voyage you yourself have taken to reach its current point.
And maybe that’s the point of this album. It succeeds by making every one of us playback similar memories of loss, grief and more importantly the here-and-now. This personal album for Steven’s contains elements familiar to all of us making this release simple to resonate with.
To mention individual tracks from the LP would almost be doing it an injustice. This album comes as a package and to review each separate piece of music would be like reading the first page of a book before immediately turning to the last. You need to experience the journey the artist has laid out before you from its outset to its stunning atmospheric conclusion.
The concept albums of Steven’s back catalogue will forever take a back seat due to this beautiful release. A finer epitaph to a lost mother you will not find.
‘Carrie & Lowell’ is out now on Asthmatic Kitty Records. Stevens is playing the ‘End of the Road Festival’ on the 4th September 2015.
The full track-listing for ‘Carrie & Lowell’ is as follows…