Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Best New Album: Sufjan Stevens' 'Carrie & Lowell'

In any musical great's case, it will always be debatable what their seminal album was; which album had the most cultural impact, emotion, melody, genius. 

In the case of Sufjan Stevens, a contemporary indie-folk staple, there are a number I can think of that could arguably be his "best," his most important. As is the case with any longstanding artist, they're all wedged into the middle of his solid 15 year career - when he'd rid himself of his training wheels, but not yet diversified so radically even devotees couldn't stay on board (like so many do).

Last week's release of his seventh album, Carrie & Lowell, proved he might have just hit seminal.  And, he's not even close to unrecognizable or irrelevant. In fact, this constant purveyor of spiritual, thoughtful folk, hasn't shown us even close to his deepest until now.

All of his prior albums were full of inexplicable wonder, but there were threads of dark secrets throughout each, begging to be pulled further. Carrie & Lowell, named after his estranged (now passed) Mother and stepfather, is a different spoonful of wonder and the bold continued unveiling of those secrets. It's brutally honest, to a perfectly uncomfortable point. It's sad - really sad, at times - and lacking the glittery bursts of both instrumental and lyrical triumph we heard on songs like "Chicago."  But it's candid storytelling is quietly uplifting, making it impossible not to to feel his closure, along with him. It's a eulogy for his Mother, who left him at a young age, and a eulogy for what he's obviously been feeling for many years. We could all use more intimacy like this.

The most interesting thing about this album, is that even if you have no interest in the back story of Carrie & Lowell, and only showed up for the fluttering strings and breathtaking harmonies, he's positioned these powerful tales in such a way that there's no way you can't hear them.

I appreciate Sufjan for telling stories like they've never been told before.

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