#1 Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell
If you listen to Carrie & Lowell and it doesn’t fuck you up bad for the greater part of a day or have you quietly weeping in the corner of your apartment, you’re 100% dead inside. Named after his mother and stepfather, this is the seventh studio album from American singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens with the same classic production he’s become known and loved for, but with none of the fanfare.
For the pared-down yet exquisite Carrie & Lowell, Stevens takes the best of what he’s always done and refines it further into a true reckoning of the aftermath of his estranged mother’s death. Carrie suffered from schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, alcoholism and depression, and opted to leave Sufjan behind as a baby in his stepfather’s care, seldom resurfacing. Between ages five and eight he had barely a handful of summers with her to collect the threadbare fragments he desperately pieces together on the album. Soon after she returned to his life in his mid 30s, she died of stomach cancer. “Her death was so devastating to me because of the vacancy within me,” Stevens recently told Pitchfork.
“I was trying to gather as much as I could of her, in my mind, my memory, my recollections, but I have nothing. It felt unsolvable.”
Perhaps its Sufjan’s sensation of lost nostalgia, a void left from losing something that had been denied him in the first place, that displaces his path to healing. We feel that irreconcilable tension throughout Carrie & Lowell, a frenzy seething just below the surface of his gentle, intricate voice and lyrical poetry. Each track swells with a haunting resonance, elevated melodies, the best of folky acoustic guitar picking, and graceful harmonies that shred your heart. On this album Stevens is a quiet avalanche.
“There's such a discrepancy between my time and relationship with her, and my desire to know her and be with her,” he says. We are grasping each thinning record of the past right along with Stevens, memory sharing a tomb with mythology. From personal to universal, Sufjan manages never to cross into the territory of overindulgent exhibitionism. “It feels artless, which is a good thing. This not my art project; this is my life,” Stevens says of the album, but it also might be his finest achievement yet.
Why it’s great: Sufjan channeling a more refined Elliot Smith
Don't Miss: 'All of Me Wants All of You,' ‘Drawn to the Blood,’ ‘Blue Bucket of Gold’