Friday, April 3, 2015

Gut Feeling: Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Asthmatic Kitty, 2015
I know the whole “50 States Project” was a “joke,” but Sufjan Stevens had me fooled. If you asked me ten years ago what his 2015 release would be like, I’d have guessed he’d be releasing “Maine Squeeze” or “Utah-t Me How to Love” or “Get Down on the Dance Flor-ida,” not reverting to the blindingly gorgeous and hushed banjo-heavy folk of his 2004 album Seven Swans. It’s more surprising still considering his last full-length—2010’s The Age of Adz—was an experimental, electronic drenched epic that sounded like Stevens totally tearing down everything he’d built himself up to be. And I suppose that’s what happened. Carrie & Lowell is a return to the sound that made his name, but it’s also his most powerful piece of work. Inspired by the death of his mother, the songs are at times painfully raw and intensely personal. Ok, it’s all intensely personal. There’s no room to breathe, and that’s part of Carrie & Lowell’s power. The songwriting is of a strength that dispels the notion Stevens’ peaked on Illinois’ finest moments and illustrates that his best work may be yet to come. As great and heartwrenching as the songwriting is, the music here is truly outstanding. Sure it’s quiet and beautiful like Seven Swans, but it’s run through a filter of ten years of dabbling in minimalism, electronics, and hip-hop. It truly feels like the sum of years of hard work. It takes a delicate touch to pull off an album this intense, and for all of Stevens’ scope and grandeur on previous projects, this one feels like a legitimate masterpiece.

Listen to Carrie & Lowell in its entirety at NPR. Ideally in a quiet place, alone, after nightfall for maximum effect.

"No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross"


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