Carrie & Lowell, the seventh studio album of Sufjan Stevens, takes us on a unique, intimate, and personal journey of significant life experience. Grief is a catalogued experience on this album which is a fluctuating recount of tragedy and sentimental loss. ‘Death With Dignity’ recounts the sharp yet simple moment of the strike of grief. The closing track ‘Blue Bucket of Gold’ laments loss sombrely. It was critically heralded upon its release in March 2015 and has remained strong since. However, that alone is not why it deserves the title of Modern Classic.
This sentimental record could be considered a “concept” album, in the story it tells of Stevens’ life growing up with his mother and step-father. Nevertheless, it couldn’t be further removed from the bombastic, indulgent albums of the 70s that the term usually applies to. The sparseness of instrumentation brings focus to the lyrical content of the album, one of its undoubted strengths. Stevens manages to present the tragedy of his own personal upbringing in a way that is accessible to anyone. The sad and stark emotional songs like ‘Fourth of July’ and ‘Drawn to the Blood’ are utterly raw and palpable.
“This sentimental record could be considered a “concept” album, in the story it tells of Stevens’ life growing up with his mother and step-father.”
The musical polymath who writes each song and often performs almost every instrument on his records, is surely deserving of hall of fame recognition. No song could be singled out as weak. This is an album that grips the heart of the listener. The emotional exposure is addictive; one cannot help but return to it again and again. It is honest and direct, its lack of pretence elevating the stories held within each song. The song writing is performed with a calm, light vocal touch. The emotional weight is evident in the lyrics themselves: “There’s only a shadow of me, in a manner of speaking I’m dead”, and “f**k me I’m falling apart.” Only Stevens could make this dead-end despondence sound beautiful.
“When looking at other albums that have been released since the start of this decade, Carrie & Lowell rises well above most.”
‘Classic’ is, of course a subjective term, but when looking at other albums that have been released since the start of this decade, Carrie & Lowell rises well above most. That an album can outlive any initial hype puts it on track to classic status. In time we will surely see this album sit alongside other works that have been considered classic for years, and deservedly so.