Singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and all-around wild card Sufjan Stevens is back with Carrie & Lowell; his 7th studio album and first since the 2010 masterpiece, The Age of Ads. After experimenting with other music styles and projects, including electronic and hip-hop, he has returned to the indie rock sound that garnered him so much attention and success earlier in his career with albums like ‘Michigan’ and ‘Come On Feel The Illinoise!’.
The latter two albums were part of an interesting mission that had Stevens set out to complete an album in the theme of each of the 50 US States. He later abandoned the project, telling Paste in 2009, “”The whole premise was such a joke and I think maybe I took it too seriously.”
Call it a joke. Call it a gimmick. Stevens is known for breaking the mold and doing things a little bit differently, whether that means writing a heart-felt ballad about serial killer John Wayne Gacy or allowing the public to believe that he went into exile for several years to teach himself his instruments and fully conceptualize his ‘50-State Project’.
Regardless, Stevens is still recognized as an extraordinary musician and is regularly featured on his albums playing all the instruments through multi-track recording. His musical education actually began when he learned the oboe and English horn in secondary school, only going on to learn guitar and other instruments during his time in college. He has been credited on his albums for his acoustic guitar, piano, wurlitzer, electric bass, drum kit, electric guitar, oboe, alto saxophone, flute, banjo, glockenspiel, accordion, vibraphone, recorders, sleigh bells, shakers, tambourine, triangle, and electric church organ.
Though Stevens is often known for his grandeur and orchestral sounds, Carrie & Lowell is predominately an acoustic album; heavily rooted in guitar and layered vocals. The album is named after Stevens’ step-father and late mother who passed away in 2012 and explores his childhood memories of love and regret. The profound inwardness of this dedication is explicit in the album’s earnest and somber sound especially when compared to his earlier works. This album is especially personal and introspective, clearly drawing on a time and subject of immense personal pain for Stevens. “Should Have Known Better” is an album highlight; a very telling and dark ballad commenting on his relationship with his mother where he recollects being left alone at a video store when he was a toddler. Stevens is completely vulnerable in Carrie & Lowell, and though the album is wholly more solemn than his previous, his return to the indie-folk sound is a triumphant one, indeed.
Sufjan Stevens is currently touring Carrie & Lowell, and he will be playing Massey Hall in Toronto on April 29th.
Listen to one of our favorites – “Blue Bucket Of Gold” below.