Last week, the much-anticipated new album from indie-folk genius Sufjan Stevens finally dropped. Sufjan Stevens releases studio albums quite rarely, and he never seems to draw attention to himself when he does decide to release something. Nevertheless, when his albums become available it is inevitably one of the most talked about musical events of the year. With the release of Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan’s 7th studio album, the situation was no different. After waiting five years from the release of his electronically-influenced record, The Age of Adz, Sufjan Stevens’ fans and the music media are eagerly putting on their headphones to hear what the ever-changing artist has put forward, and they aren’t disappointed.
Carrie & Lowell is a return to some of Sufjan Stevens’ earlier albums, but remains a distinct addition to his discography. Unlike the maximalist, overwhelming sound that characterized The Age of Adz, Carrie & Lowell features a much simpler indie-folk style. The focus has come back to Sufjan’s voice, accompanied by finger-picking guitars with an occasional touch of keyboards or other strings. Every track on this album has a certain delicacy, with each note ringing alone in the mix. The songs are simpler in structure, and rely on intricate playing and flowing vocal melodies to capture the attention. Fans of Sufjan Stevens as a singer will adore the range and character that he brings to every song. Carrie & Lowell sits squarely in the indie-folk genre, but his beautiful songwriting won’t soon be confused with any other folk artists.
Carrie & Lowell was inspired by the recent passing of Sufjan’s mother, and the profound impact of that sad event is clear throughout the album. There is a sad, nostalgic quality behind both the tone of the music itself and the lyrics. The theme of death and appreciation of mortality permeates every track. The record feels pensive, like a reflection on the life of someone of great importance. This is not an album to lift the spirits, but it is well suited to quiet contemplation. As a result, it feels like an album that I would listen to in particular situations, rather than an album like Illinois, which I can listen to whenever I feel like really immersing myself in a full album. That doesn’t mean that Carrie & Lowell is of lesser quality than his other work, just that it has a particular mood that I would not want on regular rotation.
Indie-folk fans everywhere need to be listening to Carrie & Lowell, and those who are not familiar with Sufjan Stevens need to listen to any and all of his albums as soon as possible. Sufjan Stevens is a true musical genius of our time, don’t miss out!