1: Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell

Well duh

I’m going to open this appraisal with some big statements: despite all talk of security and social benefits, the party that wins any election will be the one that appeals most to the voters’ inherent selfishness; The Sopranos is the greatest TV show of all time and anyone who doesn’t like the ending is an idiot; responding to any violent act with a violent reprisal does not ‘even the score’, it simply means it is now violence 2 humanity 0; Manchester United will never return to the successes they once enjoyed until Wayne Rooney leaves; if you’re against refugees leaving Syria then you’re staunchly on the side of ISIS; Susan Boyle’s version of ‘Wild Horses‘ is superior to the Stones original; there is something racist about being angered by immigration, and anyone who says there isn’t needs to read up on their definitions; any steps you make to helping the environment are probably the easiest ones that make the smallest amount of difference; Tom from accounting is a right prick; soy sauce is actually a vastly underrated condiment; all other cheeses pale in comparison to brie; the success of a crisp brand rises and falls on the strength of its salt and vinegar. OK, now you’ve been softened up a bit I can finish with one last big statement: despite an extraordinarily accomplished back catalogue, ‘Carrie & Lowell’ is by quite a distance the best Sufjan Stevens album.

To say it’s the best album of the year is hardly a big statement though, in fact it towers so magnificently over all other recorded music released this year that to say it’s the best is- if anything- an almost offensively obvious statement. Stevens strips back his music here until at many points it’s little more than a voice and an acoustic guitar, like Sufjan has taken the styles he’s honed from making BIGGER and more orchestrally driven music and utilised the lessons learned here, as despite the more intimate production the songs here still sound huge. The lyrics concern the feelings Sufjan struggled with after being abandoned by his mother Carrie, who passed away in 2012, but also references the role played by Carrie’s husband and Sufjan’s stepfather Lowell (who is also the co-founder of Stevens’ record label Asthmatic Kitty. Yeah, we’ll just ignore that name). ‘C&L’ is nakedly and starkly autobiographical, but while that sounds as if it’d repel, it in fact allures, enchants and seduces, the universal themes of grief, sadness, depression and, ultimately, hope will speak to anyone listening. While technically it concerns Sufjan’s mother’s disappearance and eventual death, there are messages here that will connect with anyone struggling with the death of any person, any relationship. Unless you’re an unholy monster, there will have a particular moment of ‘S&L’ that will see you break down bawling, be it the assertion of ‘No Shade In the Shadow of the Cross‘ ‘There’s blood on that blade/Fuck me I’m falling apart’, the plaintive ‘When I was three/Three maybe four/She left me at the video store’ of Should Have Known Better, or simply the devastatingly beautiful falsetto call on closer ‘Blue Bucket of Gold‘. It isn’t all sadness though, ‘Should Have Known Better‘ sees the possibilities of the future: ‘My brother had a daughter/The beauty that she brings, illumination’. ‘Carrie & Lowell’ is cast-iron masterpiece, every track here is either a minor or a major classic, Mr. Stevens has sailed perilously close to symphonic perfection.

Sufjan stevens.jpeg

‘Fun’ Fact: I refuse to believe even Sufjan himself spells his name correctly every time

He he, what’s the name of that track where he says ‘you checked your texts while I masturbated’? Looooooool! ‘Laugh out out out out out out out out loud’? You’re not getting an easy option this time buddy, just listen to the whole album.

5 thoughts on “1: Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell

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