SUFJAN STEVENS – ” Carrie and Lowell ” Classic Albums

Posted: November 1, 2017 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
Tags: , ,

Sufjan Stevens - <em>Carrie & Lowell</em> (Asthmatic Kitty)

Before the year was even two weeks old in 2015, we were greeted with the wonderful, news that Sufjan Stevens had an album on the way, a return to his “folk roots.” It was about time! After a run of three classics in three years — 2003’s Michigan, 2004’s Seven Swans, and 2005’s IllinoisStevens wandered around the wilderness for a decade, reporting back only with sporadic news . It was easy to imagine we’d lost him forever.

When “Carrie & Lowell” arrived in early 2015, though, we realized it wasn’t a return to anything. Like so many soldiers, convicts, and mystics, Stevens had been irretrievably altered in his time away. The guy who made Illinois was gone. On that record, Stevens occasionally tackled subjects such as substance abuse and mental illness and mortality (all three in the same song on “John Wayne Gacy”),

On Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens is directly singing about his own mother’s drug addiction, her schizophrenia, her death from stomach cancer. He’s singing about his own terror and sadness and loss — his own childhood, his own grief. There’s no glockenspiel, no grand concept; there’s little more than a finger-picked acoustic guitar and a whispering, quivering voice. And that voice doesn’t just sound haunted; it sounds like a fucking ghost. Listen to Carrie & Lowell on headphones, it doesn’t feel like Stevens is singing to you; it feels like he’s singing inside you.

It’s a discomfiting experience. Stevens’ most obvious musical touchstone here is Elliott Smith — another damaged person who wrestled with demons his whole life — but Carrie & Lowell is somehow even more devastating than any of Smith’s records. That’s partly because Stevens‘ soft voice is so prominent in the mix. Elliott Smith buried his vocals in layers, tangled them in knots; you can listen to an Elliott Smith record and just get lost in the loveliness of the sound if you don’t want to think about the ferocious pain conveyed in the words. Carrie & Lowell refuses you that option: You get trapped in the loveliness of the sound.

But Carrie & Lowell isn’t a morbid record, like the moments of Sun Kil Moon’s Benji, it is meditative, honest, and open. It claws at the world. It fights back at the darkness. It rips you to shreds and moves you to tears, but it’s not asking you to dwell on death — it is forcing you to experience life. And when I immerse myself in Carrie & Lowell, I’m engaging with every single verse, but here, now, I will engage only with this one, which closes “Eugene”:

“What’s left is only bittersweet/ For the rest of my life, admitting the best is behind me/ Now I’m drunk and afraid, wishing the world would go away/ What’s the point of singing songs/ If they’ll never even hear you?”

Carrie & Lowell captures a life full of bittersweetness — several lives, really. And in the music, all those voices, the living and the dead, are reflected, amplified.

The best is not behind Sufjan Stevens. He has never been better than this, never really even been close. He can push the world away and walk off into the woods if he wants . Not anymore. Carrie & Lowell forces us to hear everything, to feel everything.  Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell was released a few years ago, and while some records lose their luster over time, this one remains stunningly, painfully intimate to this day. The record details Stevens’ troubled relationship with his mother, and also marks his return to a more traditional folk sound. Full of intricate guitar picking and ghostly vocals, listening to Carrie & Lowell is like bearing witness to one person’s beautifully rendered emotional wreckage.

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