Album Review: Carrie and Lowell – Sufjan Stevens

Carrie and Lowell album art.
Carrie and Lowell album art.

Very few artists are able to bridge a gap between widely varying musical genres, let alone a gap as wide as the one from indie-folk to electronica. However, Sufjan Stevens has gotten rave reviews on every album he has recorded, from indie-folk records Illinoise and Carrie and Lowell to electronica album Enjoy Your Rabbit. His most recent, Carrie and Lowell, was released in late March of this year. It was released to extremely high critical acclaim, with reviewers calling it “one of Stevens’s best” (Pitchfork Media, Stosuy) and noting that it was a comeback for Stevens, not coming back with a bang but quietly, triumphantly, and in “a series of small, elegant moments that reach for the heart” (Exclaim!, Carlick). Its theme is one of the trials and tribulations of life growing up with Carrie and Lowell, Stevens’s mother and stepfather, respectively. Carrie had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and suffered from drug substance abuse.  The first track, Death With Dignity, speaks about Stevens’s feeling of loss after his mother’s death. However, it seems to be not only about her death, but the lack of relationship between them while she was alive. This is a continuous theme throughout the album. The song Fourth of July sounds like a conversation between him and his mother, saying things that Sufjan wishes he had told her before she died. The Only Thing involves Stevens’s grief towards the loss of his mother and his desire to be closer to her, and as a result, he begins to think about substance abuse, becoming reckless as she was, and even suicide. He still manages to find beauty in his faith and nature, though. The closing song of Carrie and Lowell, titled Blue Bucket of Gold, offers little in terms of closure. In an interview after the album’s release, Stevens said that “[He] didn’t know [his mom] well in a lot of ways and [he] didn’t know how to say goodbye on the last track with articulation. So [he] quit playing piano and vocals and just stopped. [he] wanted to surrender her to the beyond with noises that sound bigger than just [him].” Beyond the album’s deep and significant meaning, the music itself is absolutely beautiful. Death With Dignity opens with a pretty banjo picking tune, and Stevens’s light, soft voice showcases just how talented he is. His voice, along with the lyrics, conveys the meaning of the song in a way that is rare to find in a musician. Throughout the album, the sweet, sad banjo compliments the piano and his voice extremely well.

Sufjan Stevens in May, 2015.
Sufjan Stevens in May, 2015.

Earning a 9/10 from Metacritic, a 5/5 from The Guardian, and a 4/5 from Rolling Stone, I expected great things from this album. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. In fact, I bought it on vinyl to listen to it for the first time (my favorite method of listening to music! See another post on that later.) and I was absolutely blown away. I’ve loved Sufjan for years, and this album is surely one of my favorites, both of his and of all-time. Yes, it’s heartbreakingly sad, but it is equally beautiful. It has moved me in so many ways, and I just love it so much.

Overall, I would rate this album a 10/10.

**Note: There are some topics discussed that may be triggering for some people. Be aware of this if you think it might affect you!**

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