Posts Tagged ‘Carrie and Lowell’

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.

Sufjan Stevens, June 4, 2015, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, California

Sufjan Stevens has never been known for his dissonance. Though he’s flexed wiry post-punk muscles in the past, and has never shied away from angularity, he built his considerable reputation on coherent stacks of pillowy sounds.

That should change. Just as he has for the duration of his Carrie & Lowell tour, Stevens ended his Thursday night set with album closer “Blue Bucket of Gold.” It’s a beautiful, gentle song on record, a dedication of faith and resilience in the face of death. Live, Stevens and his five-piece band draw the song to a near hush. Two stationary disco balls hide behind the stage’s massive video boards, their light refracted and still. Then, as the group builds away from this moment of incredible stillness, the stage lights begin to pop and flash in every color and the video board goes strobe and the band are suddenly playing at Hecker-like levels of volume and dissonance. It’s death, imagined, and it’s not a horrible thing or a scary thing. It’s tragic and mournful. And it’s incredibly moving in a way that music this abstract rarely is.

 

“Blue Bucket of Gold” was the thematic cap of Stevens’ very emotional set at L.A.’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. He played the entirety of this year’s Carrie & Lowell, and at several moments he was so overcome with emotion that he was nearly unable to sing: he flubbed notes and had to catch himself in “Eugene,” and he stopped playing entirely for a suspenseful second in the middle of “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross.”

Sufjan Stevens – ‘Carrie & Lowell’

But the catharsis that came with the Carrie & Lowell songs seemed to loosen him up, too. He was funnier and more easygoing than he had been earlier on the tour, taking the long way around to a joke about Top Gun before launching into the Seven Swans track “Sister.” He even poked fun at his own preoccupation with death and suffering. And then he went and broke our hearts anyway.

Set List

[Set 1]

“Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)”
“Death With Dignity”
“Should Have Known Better”
“Drawn to the Blood”
“All of Me Wants All of You”
“Eugene”
“John My Beloved”
“The Only Thing”
“Fourth of July”
“No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”
“Carrie & Lowell”
“The Owl and the Tanager”
“For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti”
“Heirloom”
“To Be Alone With You”
“Futile Devices”
“Sister”
“The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!”
“Blue Bucket of Gold”

[Encore]
“Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois”
“Chicago”

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Carrie & Lowell album Tour Exclusive 7″ Vinyl To support his critically acclaimed new album, Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens has just shared a non-album track “Exploding Whale.” Available exclusively as a 7” vinyl to be sold at various stops along Stevens’ upcoming tour, the track is availble here.

From forthcoming new album CARRIE & LOWELL,

Sufjan Stevens with a track taken from his much anticipated album Carrie & Lowell, due out 30th March. the track ‘Should Have Known Better’ features a fingerpicked guitar cascading above gradual washes of a choral backing vocals, delicate bleepings introducing a looped melody towards the end with tambourine keeping time.

It’s a plaintive song sung with delicious poetry, the lyrics interchanging fragmented memories with feelings conjured with figurative language, a vista of the confessional mind punctuated with clues and and imagery, a landscape strewn with inexplicably emotive curiosities and relics. As the snow melts and the season turns, comes Sufjan Stevens to remind us that everything dies. His new album, Carrie & Lowell, is centered around the death of his mother, Carrie, who was in and out of his life from the start. “There’s such a discrepancy between my time and relationship with her, and my desire to know her and be with her,”  and “Should Have Known Better” takes us back to the beginning he remembers, where Carrie leaves him in a video store at the age of “three, maybe four.” In a hushed voice, he sings like he’s clinging onto a blanket for warmth as he fixates on the black shroud that enveloped him in the wake of her absence, muting his ability to transparently express himself.

But halfway through, an uplifting electric keyboard line kicks in; a subtle percussive note steadily taps out a reminder to keep going; his voice shakes off the ice and forms a chorus with itself, flowering into something hopeful. Sufjan flips the melody from the black shroud into a tender lyric about shoving aside his fear, discovering an oasis of perspective when he looks to his brother’s newborn daughter and sees his mother in her face. When he sings “nothing can be changed,” he doesn’t sound resigned, but ready to look forward. It’s the dawn at the end of a long night, a prayer that past traumas might be healed by a beautiful present.