2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

New Music: Sufjan Stevens

By Jason Herring, April 2 2015 —

Geography has always been a big part of Sufjan Stevens’ music -— the American singer-songwriter previously released albums entitled Michigan and Illinois. On those albums, Stevens used nostalgia alongside a healthy dose of Americana to tell emotional stories that transcend physical space.

Even though Stevens’ new album, Carrie & Lowell, doesn’t bear the name of an American state, it touches on Stevens’ experiences as a kid growing up in Oregon with his mother.

The record has Stevens returning to a mostly acoustic set up after his last album, the electronic The Age of Adz, and sees the singer making the most powerful work of his career.

The title, Carrie & Lowell, refers to Stevens’ parents, but the album focuses mostly on his relationship with his mother, Carrie.

Stevens spoke about his mother’s absence during his childhood in a recent interview. He said the record was written as a way to come to terms with her recent death.

The vulnerability Stevens shows on the album is what makes Carrie & Lowell so effective. The song “Should Have Known Better” begins with Stevens singing about memories of his mother and his regret of not having spoken to her more, endimg with him talking about the illumination his young niece brings into his life. It’s a beautiful sentiment about how it’s possible to thrive in the present despite what has happened in the past.

Stevens’ Christianity is a big part of his identity, and it becomes an essential part of his music, as can be seen on songs such as “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross.”  While some listeners might be put off by the religious lyricism, Stevens combines his beliefs with the music in a tasteful way, and the religious imagery is gorgeous.

Musically, Carrie & Lowell excels. Most songs feature intricate finger-picking melodies reminiscent of artists like Nick Drake or Elliott Smith. Other times, like on the haunting “Fourth of July,” Stevens turns to a sparse synthesizer arrangement.

The best song on Carrie & Lowell is the title track, which finds Stevens exploring electronic music again, albeit more subtlety than his previous work. The bouncy synth line manages to feel both playful and mysterious.

Even though the instrumentation is toned down from his previous work, which routinely featured anything from sequencer drum machines to entire symphonies, Stevens manages to make more with less and craft some of the best songs he’s ever written.

Carrie & Lowell is one of the most powerful albums I’ve ever heard. In Stevens’ willingness to open himself up, he has created a masterpiece.



Hiring | Staff | Advertising | Contact | PDF version | Archive | Volunteer | SU

The Gauntlet