Tonight’s-Sort-Of Album Review: Sufjan Stevens

I’ve got a problem with Sufjan. But I probably won’t talk about that here.

Sufjan, Indie-folk’s forever-young, sometimes confusing, always whispering, poet, released his album Carrie and Lowell a few days ago. Here are some words I’ve seen used across the interweb to describe it: Stripped, magnificent, bare, wallowing, quietly moving, near-perfect, etc… I’ll say this: The record is fantastic and you should listen to it. Done

Carrie and Lowell seems like Sufjan just said, “I’m going to forget about a lot of this other shit, forget about the wings, and the electronica and concept album and really write something again.” The songs still have that melancholic medieval piper sound to them and at first listen, you might think it’s just another folk album. It’s shamlessly Paul Simon-esque, but it’s beautiful and devastating and you’ll find yourself hearing these little milliseconds of brilliance woven throughout. You keep expecting it to get old, because the songs are arranged similarly, but it never does.

Sufjan, to me, is the last, best enigma in music. He’s sold millions of albums and plays to sold out cavernous theaters. He’s recorded everything from folk to jazz-infused indie to glitchie synth-pop to full-on electronica. MTV had a special segment on him. Yet we, the listener, the consumer, know almost nothing about him. You can barely find a live video of his music on Youtube. You can’t find him talking about his music. Even the least-known Indie artists, the ones who play at noon on the first day of a music festival, have videos on Youtube of some asshole asking questions about the “story-telling in their lyrics” and that “one record you just can’t turn off.” I know nothing about Sufjan and I love it.

This is why Carrie and Lowell is so important. It’s brilliant because it brings us close to something we know nothing about; death, but also about the past of the artist. After the polarizing precision of Age of Adz, it seems to be a return to roots, a coming home of sorts, a tearful entrance through the side-door. It’s back to being about the song and not about the act.

I’m just going to put this here because it showed up on my shuffle and I haven’t heard it in years. I forgot about how this song makes me feel; Sufjan’s stuffy-nosed whispers, the string refrains sweeping up from the dirty city sidewalks, I made a lot of mistakes, I made a lot of mistakes, I made a lot of mistakes, I made a lot of mistakes.

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