Carrie & Lowell is a touching album that discusses a plethora of topics ranging from death to love and sex to god.
Sufjan Stevens came into the scene in 1999 as a young 20-something musician from Michigan. You can say that throughout his career, he’s been a very energetic creative. By his seventh release however, it seems as if life and its struggles have deeply affected Stevens into releasing a very self-reflective piece of work. Carrie & Lowell is a touching album that discusses a plethora of topics ranging from death to love and sex to god.
Sufjan Steven’s last release was five years ago, during a very competitive and artistic year in music. Steven’s last album The Age of Adz was full of noise, power and bits of excitement, but as we’ve seen from many artists from Kendrick Lamar to Tobias Jesso Jr., times have changed and the world has changed. Many of the year’s musical releases follow suit, making an album just as dark and thought provoking as the time we currently live in. Steven’s, who is only months away from 40, has had his fair share of life changing moments that have become the backbone of this project.
Carrie & Lowell begins with the wonderful acoustic song entitled “Death and Dignity.” Despite the very calming repetitive notes of Steven’s acoustic guitar, the lyrics are the exact opposite. “Spirit of my silence, I can hear you/But I’m afraid to be near you/And I don’t know where to begin/And I don’t know where to begin.” The lyrics touch on his struggles to adapt to the death of his mother, Carrie who died in 2012. As most people would be, he is very confused, lost and is deeply affected by her absence. In his interview with The Guardian, he says “I was recording songs as a mean of grieving, making sense of it.” His constant references to death and god in particular are themes explored countless times and allows the listener to grieve with him.
Steven’s non-existent relationship with his mother in his developmental years plays a major role in Carrie & Lowell. Her absence is explained in “Should Have Know Better,” where he sings “When I was three, three maybe four/she left us at the video store/Be my rest, be my fantasy.” Due to her absence, he was often forced to create his own image of his mother. She was more of a fantasy than an actual person and he used his fabricated stories in order to cope with living in a home lacking genuine love. As the song progresses, he switches from the past to his present self, which is deep with regret for not attempting to bridge the gap between him and his mother.
Steven’s eventually became somewhat close to his mother in her final moments. It can be seen as a bittersweet ending for their relationship; an ending with an actual conclusion, not with him wondering of his mother’s whereabouts and livelihood as he often did when she would go away. In “Forth of July,” Stevens recalls a conversation between his mother and himself, as he questions the concept of death and his mother’s angelic presence. The song is led by a piano and a few notes, but the real instrument is his voice, as it seems he barely can make a sound during this conversation. In this time he has, he asks his mother about things that she has learned over the course of her life, his mother in return asks him “Why does he cry?” She then later apologizes for her abandonment, although she believed it was for the best.
His mother’s death due to cancer is not the only death he found worth writing on. Throughout the album he accepts the concept of his own death. At the end of “Forth of July,” he comes the conclusion that “We All Die.” It’s a thought most people have, but his comfort with the concept of death is alarming in some sense and brilliant in others. On “John My Beloved” he sings, “counting my cards down to one.”
Carrie & Lowell is not completely about death as he dives deep into love, on songs such as “Drawn to Blood.” Following the acoustic sound of the album, Steven’s cries out for answers. “What did I do to deserve this now?/ How did this happen?” God and references to the Bible are also made quite often during the album. Steven’s is openly a god-fearing individual and it is well documented in his lyrics, however, that isn’t a reason to steer you away from appreciating the album. He uses religion as a tool to express himself, even briefly and does not use it to persuade anyone to be Christian. More times than not religion has a negative stigma attached to it, but it is safe to say Steven’s is merely using it to discover more about himself. In return, it connects to the listener on a deeper level despite whether you identify with a religion or not.
Carrie & Lowell is arguably one of the best albums of the year. The subject matter, although very personal and specific to Steven’s own upbringing, has pieces that can be applied to anyone who has ever had deep thoughts about life and love. It is an album to match your darkest moments and because of that, you need to be in a mental space in order to fully listen and appreciate this excellent body of work. Carrie & Lowell can be purchased on iTunes as well as CD and Vinyl. You can also stream the album for free below.
By: Romel Lherisson