Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

Published Monday 27th April 2015
Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

STYLE: Roots/Acoustic
RATING 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
LABEL: Asthmatic Kitty

Reviewed by John Cheek

This is the seventh album for the much praised idiosyncratic singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist and being his first for five years has registered high in the charts. But there needs to be at the outset a word of warning for all Cross Rhythms readers. 'Carrie & Lowell' is not for the faint-hearted. And it needs to be pointed out that there are some swear words on this project. This is a lament, a psalm, a painfully honest account of dealing with bereavement, an album which appears characteristic, upon first listen, of a lightness-of-touch but in fact is Stevens' darkest collection of songs with which I am still getting to grips. But like Jacob wrestling the angel, a blessing rewards perseverance and repeated listens. These songs occupy a sonic landscape somewhere between early Belle & Sebastian and Simon & Garfunkel circa "Scarborough Fayre". They are full of religious concerns and allusions and prayers pepper the lyrics: confusion abounds, but reminiscent of Job, not Thomas the Doubter; they are ethereal, serious and certainly not quirky songs; "blues" in the truest sense. The songs are the result of the crisis which enveloped Stevens following the death, in December 2012, of his alcoholic, depressive, schizophrenic mother who abandoned him at a very young age and with whom he had experienced a difficult relationship ever since. The title also includes the name of his stepfather and their image adorns the sleeve. It's a cliche to assert that great loss or great suffering leads to great art, but here we encounter the Christian life in all its painful reality. It's not an easy listen - Sufjan has had his senses sharpened by his loss of innocence, as well as his mother, and he confesses to sins, failures and regrets. It's a challenging listen - on "The Only Thing", he contemplates suicide; and he admits to something of a nervous-breakdown on "No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross". It's a "Christian" listen, in the broadest sense - in "Death With Dignity" the songsmith opines, "I forgive you mother/And I hear you/And I long to be near you." A word of admiration about this album... it's not for the faint-hearted.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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