“There has never been anything written that is more explicitly honest than Carrie and Lowell”
It is rare for a musician to present their lives, and their vulnerabilities on a silver platter in such a way as Sufjan Stevens does. A lover of storytelling, with a seemingly never ending back catalogue of material, Stevens wrote six incredible studio albums between 2000 and 2010. With narratives about spiritual faith, childhood, and the interesting people he has met throughout his life, he successfully became one of the greatest indie-folk writers, and holds a very special place in our hearts.
Stevens’s new album Carrie & Lowell was released on Tuesday and its haunting melodies, and gut wrenching, raw lyrics capture the beauty of grief like nothing we have ever heard before. To be perfectly honest, it feels strange writing a review about something so intensely personal, reinforced by the fact that most of the tracks were written in first person. There were legitimate tears shed while delving deep in to this record, and the story behind it may be hard for your ears to stomach. At any rate it is sure to leave a lump in your throat… yet, you will be unable to tear yourself away from its misery.
From the title, Carrie is Stevens’ mother who suffered from depression, schizophrenia, and alcoholism. She left him and his siblings when they were very young, as mentioned in ‘Should Have Known Better’ “when I was three, three maybe four, she left us at that video store”. The only real memory he has of her is when she was married to his stepfather Lowell and they would visit them intermittently in Oregon during the five years they were together. Carrie died from stomach cancer in 2012 and this record was written as a means for him to deal with his remorse, as well as search for meaning and reconciliation. He has said “It’s something that was necessary for me to do in the wake of my mother’s death—to pursue a sense of peace and serenity in spite of suffering. It’s not really trying to say anything new, or prove anything, or innovate. It feels artless, which is a good thing. This is not my art project; this is my life.”
The tracks are simple and sparse in their disposition, with soft, mellow layers containing a banjo or guitar and Stevens whisper vocals to draw you in. He confronts his own mortality and expresses dealing with grief through substance, self-abuse and suicide “Now I’m drunk and afraid/ wishing the world would go away” (‘Eugene’). It is a heart breaking ode to his mother and you may feel a little closer to Stevens after such an emotionally scarring journey. There are moments of such raw emotion, such as lyrics “Fuck me I’m falling apart” in ‘No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross’ or the deep, shattering breath intake at the end of ‘John My Beloved’. There has never been anything written that is more explicitly honest than Carrie and Lowell.
The album has been released through Stevens’ label Ashmatic Kitty Records which Lowell Brams incidentally runs, and can be purchased through iTunes. Despite its sorrow, the music created is effortlessly beautiful and moves through you like a soft breeze causing gentle ripples along the water. It strongly holds its own against Stevens’ previous releases, and is sure to go on the list of most memorable albums.
If you haven’t done so recently, be sure to tell your mother that you love her!