Sufjan Stevens new album “Carrie and Lowell” easily relatable

Eddie Brancale

With today’s pop-heavy influence on music, songwriting has become something of a lost art. Sufjan Stevens, an indie artist with a penchant for melancholy sound, may in fact be its savior. Stevens has been a pioneer of the independent genre, with his discography ranging from folk-rock to electronic to Christmas music. Stevens opts for a more classic folk sound in his latest album, “Carrie and Lowell,” named after his late mother and his stepfather. While recent Stevens albums have been characterized by experimental, multi-instrumental sound, “Carrie and Lowell’s” greatest strength lies in its simplicity, with Sufjan plucking away on his guitar and banjo accompanied by his quiet delivery. Here, Stevens seems to be pouring his heart out, with much more personal tracks reminiscent of his early work. In crafting an album invoking themes of his past, Stevens has conjured a masterpiece of modern songwriting, and an album that should garner significant public attention. 

Stevens’ career has been somewhat unconventional in terms of his discography. He burst onto the scene with his debut album “A Sun Came,” and he began enjoying his reputation as being one of the most lyrically gifted artists in the indie genre. His two concept albums, “Illinois” and “Michigan,” were based on their respective states, with lyrics based upon the history of those states and their various characteristics. Both have been praised as being some of the best music of the decade. He expanded his horizon with the electronic-based “Age of Adz,” his last studio album before this year’s “Carrie and Lowell.” Stevens has taken a more introspective tone with this album, as he reflects on both his childhood and his complicated relationship with his mother, who passed away in 2012 from stomach cancer. She suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and had drug problems throughout Stevens’ childhood, leading their relationship to be strained. Her presence and influence is felt very often throughout the album, specifically “Should Have Known Better” and the album’s heartbreaking opener, “Death with Dignity.” Here, Stevens admits to feeling his mother all around him and declares his desire to be near her again. It is difficult to move on from the opening track, as it’s soft, simplistic melody calls for endless replays.

Following the album’s opener, “Should Have Known Better” may be the album’s most commercially successful songs, with a catchy beat and smooth vocals. 

Elsewhere, tracks such as “Eugene” reference family members and his childhood trips to Oregon with his parents. The title track, “Carrie and Lowell” allows Sufjan to reminisce about his relationship with his stepfather and mother, and serves as one of the highlights of the album. It is not uncharacteristic of artists to use their music to explore the remnants of their childhood, but there is something about Stevens’ heartbreaking delivery and attention to detail that allows his latest album to stand out.

In a world dominated by pop stars and egotistical rappers, it is difficult for a talent such as Sufjan Stevens to shine through. Stevens (and specifically his poignant lyricism) defies the demands of the mainstream by just being himself, and through his self-expression he creates music that we can not only enjoy, but relate to. 

“Carrie and Lowell” further establishes this, and shows that even after fifteen years, Sufjan Stevens can only get better.