Album Review

Carrie & Lowell

Carrie & Lowell

by Sufjan Stevens


Asthmatic Kitty
9 / 10
19th June 2015

Reviewed by Gerry le Roux


With his first new album proper since 2010 release The Age of Adz, Sufjan Stevens returns to the pristine folk of his earlier albums, most notable 2004’s Seven Swans. After the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink bombast of The Age of Adz, this new offering represents a decidedly more minimal approach. Carrie & Lowell boasts gorgeously subtle acoustic instrumentation augmented by light electronic flourishes that underpin songs of brutally naked emotion. While the music at first appears simple and even quirky in places, the extended ambient musical endings to many of the songs lend proceedings an underlying sense of unease.

Informed by the death of his mother Carrie, the album features a level of autobiographical detail not seen before in Stevens’ work. From the opening admission “I don’t know where to begin”, to the questions littered throughout the album, making sense of his feelings and his fractured relationship with his mother was clearly no easy task. With his confessions and recollections delivered in a hushed, multi-tracked whisper, listening to the album feels almost voyeuristic, and the effect is breathtaking. Nowhere is the emotion more touching than on the album's centrepiece, a heartbreakingly beautiful song called 'Fourth of July', which chronicles a conversation between Sufjan and his dying mother.

An intense, stark and difficult album, Carrie and Lowell requires real emotional investment from the listener, but it is a richly rewarding and ultimately uplifting experience. While an album this personal runs the risk of not really connecting with the listener, Stevens is too clever to allow this to happen - his lyrics are abstract enough to turn his personal emotions into universal themes of love, forgiveness, doubt, faith and mortality, resulting in an album that may just be his finest yet.





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