By now you should all have your copy of this album. Apologies for the delay in getting this post up on the site.
I’ve owned this album for about a week now and while I have spent some time with it, I’ve not been able to focus on it as much as I would like to. Therefore, this won’t be the usual heartfelt, personal introduction that so often Album Of The Month posts are. What I will do is share my path to this album and my initial thoughts.
My introduction to Sufjan Stevens, like so many others was through ‘Illinois’ a concept album of tracks inspired by the state, perhaps the worst idea for a concept album ever … but one of the finest albums of its decade (in my humble opinion). The critics agreed and Sufjan became a relatively well-known name in the 20-40 something, music loving, gig-going crowd. From there I went backwards to ‘Seven Swans’ which is a far simpler affair more about song writing than the complex musical adornment seen on Illinois. I missed a lot of what came after Illinois (4 albums including an Xmas album that really is worth a listen when it comes to that time of year again!) and picked up again with Age of Adz. This was released around the time that Silvia was born and very much reminds me of the time and feelings involved. For this reason it has a very special place in my heart. However well received by critics I think a lot of people found that a step too far in terms of musical trickery (wankery) and needless complexity. An album and an EP later and Sufjan releases Carrie & Lowell.
The album is inspired by the death of his troubled Mother, Carrie and her life including her relatively short relationship with his Father (or Carrie’s partner? I cant recall and am not too concerned about these details) Lowell. That doesn’t sound like a particularly good start for many … expect for me. As has become obvious through the course of our ramblings, I love a musical tear-jerker. I have a very high threshold for heart breaking personal lyrics and always have. I have no problem that the hook on ‘Fourth of July’ is ‘We’re all gonna die’ a sentiment that Sufjan has visited on numerous previous tracks in less detail and with more poetic disguise. This album is full of emotional detail and no attempt at disguise … unless you compare it to something like ‘Benji’ by Sun Kill Moon (a favourite of mine from last year). ‘Benji’ was heartbreakingly sad and even I find it a tough listen unless I am in precisely the right place.
The difference for me is that ‘Carrie & Lowell’ is hypnotic in its presentation, its beautiful in its simplicity. Mr. Steven’s has removed many of the musical obstacles that he created in earlier works to reveal the beauty of his melodies. His voice is a fragile and at points a brittle instrument but it is perfectly suited to the lyrical content. At points he sounds like Elliot Smith which for me is no problem as he is another artist that I have held close to my heart (I am an ageing, depressed and confused teenager after all).
The big question I think others will need to answer is ‘do I find this depressing or do I find it beautiful?’.
Enjoy (if you think that is the right word).