Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell | Album review

Carrie & Lowell
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Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Genre: Alternative
Label: Asthmatic Kitty

If there's one thing that you can't accuse Sufjan Stevens of, it's homogeneity. The Detroit-born indie-folk deity has consistently keep his fanbase on their toes, plundering the depths of hushed, intimate storytelling folk on Seven Swans, revelling in electronic pop on The Age of Adz, dabbling in hip-hop with his Sisyphus side-project, and flirting with the mainstream – or as close as he will get – on Illinois. He is not an easy artist to classify.

Stevens' seventh studio album reveals yet another facet of his canon. Informed by the death of his mother in 2012 – and named for her and his step-father, the co-founder of his Asthmatic Kitty label – Carrie & Lowell is an intimate portrait of death, love and mortality.

At times, these songs are unbearably intimate; opening track Death With Dignity paints such a painfully evocative image of the inevitable, yet is kept afloat by the lithe, delicately plucked guitar notes that dance under Stevens' hushed vocals. It feels almost intrusive to listen to Eugene, a dappled snapshot of a childhood holiday, or the self-reflective turmoil of Fourth of July. The sad songs go hand in hand with Steven's own reflections on love, as heard on All of Me Wants All of You, his lyrics reading more and more like poetry with each album.

An overblown soundtrack would not have been suitable for these innermost professions. As such, the majority of these songs are led by simple acoustic guitar, occasionally allowing a faint patter of electronica (John My Beloved), piano riff (My Blue Bucket) or soft sweep of strings (Drawn to the Blood) to seep through. It's an album that you'll need time to process, but it's an achingly beautiful tribute.

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy is a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She writes about music and the arts for The Irish Times