Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens
Well look who’s setting a dangerous precedent. The last time Sufjan Stevens was on the Top 31, his album The Age of Adz came in at #3 in 2010. And now, here at #4, that’s really saying something: Legendary; Legacy; I’ll be listening to this artist for the rest of my life. And that really shouldn’t be a surprise, given how enamored I was with his 2005 album Illinois. If this trend holds, he’s going to come out with an amazing album every five years.
If you enjoyed Adz like I did, then Carrie & Lowell will feel like a major departure. It’s more Illinois than Adz, but even with the technological layers of Adz stripped away, Carrie & Lowell is quintessential Sufjan. Made up of almost whispered singing and finger-picking guitar, C&L is quiet to the core. It causes you to lean in, to take a moment and really process what Sufjan is singing about. And that’s when it hits you: he’s singing about mortality, existence, and the human condition, and it’s gorgeous.
According to Pitchfork (who put this album at #6 on the year), “‘Carrie’ is the troubled mother Stevens hardly knew, who died in 2012; ‘Lowell’ is the loving step-father who to this day helps run Stevens’ independent record label.” If you were singing about your recently deceased mother and your widower step-father, you, too, would be feeling a bit existential.
Side note: with five years between each of his last three albums, it’s interesting how it doesn’t feel like that’s how the time has been structured between these great albums. Illinois feels like it’s been with me forever, and Adz feels like I was only hearing it for the first time just last year. I wonder how Carrie & Lowell will feel in five years’ time.
This is a beautiful album. I recommend picking it up and listening with intention (something I rarely do), like reading a good book. I hope it makes you feel every bit as alive as it does me.
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