Even after hearing multiple cuts off of Carrie & Lowell, there was no predicting what direction Sufjan Stevens’ latest album would take. He’s proved himself more than capable of creating electronic hip-hop, acoustic folk, and christmas extravaganzas alike.
This is an album made for and about Sufjan’s mother and stepfather: it’s their picture on the album cover, their names superimposed over a cracked, mutilated photograph. Sufjan was mostly raised by his father, but the titular Lowell helped Sufjan start (and is still running) his Asthmatic Kitty record label.
Sufjan’s mother Carrie passed in 2012 after a lifelong struggle with schizophrenia and depression, and the presser describes the album as concerning “life and death, love and loss, and the artist’s struggle to make sense of the beauty and ugliness of love.” Well-trod paths to be sure, but Sufjan spins each song with such a meticulous, careful touch that it’s hard not to be taken back to your own childhood memories as the album progresses.
The album is bare, little more than acoustic guitar, muted piano, and Sufjan’s voice, barely above a whisper. It’s a return to the lo-fi folk of Seven Swans, but with a sadness and reflection that gives the whole album the soothing, almost eerie stillness of snowfall. The spirit of Nick Drake is alive and well. Standouts include “Fourth of July” and “Blue Bucket of Gold.” Stream Carrie & Lowell in full below: