Carrie & Lowell
Reviewed by: Max Miller
Sufjan Stevens may be a known quantity in indie rock and folk, but it’s been some time now since he’s done much to live up to the legacy he founded with albums like Illinois and Michigan. Stevens’ fans must have breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing his latest album, Carrie & Lowell, would stray from electronic experimentation and Christmas carols. He return to his roots with a folksy song cycle about the grief he felt following the death of his mother in 2012.
But of course it couldn’t possibly be that straightforward. While the lyrics clearly express Stevens’ mourning, especially on opener “Death With Dignity” or “Fourth of July” (with its haunting “We’re all gonna’ die” refrain), he often obfuscates his emotions with allusions (“The Only Thing”) or turns to deeply personal anecdotes that, while powerful, couldn’t possibly resonate with his audience as much as they do with Stevens himself (“Should Have Known Better,” “Eugene”). That’s not to suggest there’s not plenty here to please listeners. Stevens’ talent for melody seemingly knows no bounds, and “Death With Dignity” and “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” showcase some of his finest unpredictable vocal lines.
Although it sprang from a place of sorrow, Carrie & Lowell ultimately makes for a cathartic and hopeful record — one that may be Sufjan Stevens’ best in years.