With six albums under his creative belt, Sufjan Stevens is able to warp and expand our musical senses. With “Carrie and Lowell,” the formula changes and a solemn Stevens emerges in a passion of which none of his listeners are familiar with. The album is brooding and vividly dark, expressing the troubling aspects of Stevens’ chaotic childhood.
The album title is inspired by the names of Stevens’ stepfather and specifically, his mother, who passed away in 2012, just as Stevens was in the midst of rekindling their relationship.
The album collectively accumulates his thoughts and regrets and compiles them into some of the most beautiful and engrossing pieces in Stevens’ catalogue.
One of the most emotionally tolling pieces, “The Only Thing,” boasts an intricately orchestrated stringed intro and intense lyrics, which will make anyone sob as Stevens contemplates suicide and the worth of his mother’s love.
Stevens whispers, “Do I care if I despise this, nothing else matters, I know / In a veil of great disguises, how do I live with your ghost? / Should I tear my eyes out now? / Everything I see returns to you somehow / Should I tear my heart out now? / Everything I feel returns to you somehow / I want to save you from your sorrow.”
Death seems to be a motif of the album; but fear not, the album is a celebration of existence and cessation rather than the funeral of Stevens’ departed hopes and dreams.
“Eugene” is evidence of this. which subtly and tearfully summarizes Stevens’ adolescence. The song comes alive with colorful imagery (look no further than the baptism image) and a beautiful acoustic melody.
“Fourth of July” is the most unique song off “Carrie and Lowell” due to the fact that the song takes the voice of Stevens’ mother, Carrie, comforting her son soon after her death.
The last line of the song, “but we’re all gonna die,” really strikes at the heartstrings of both Stevens and his audience, allowing both parties to step back and realize that life is like Carrie, short and full of sorrow.
Other highlights include, “Should’ve Known You Better,” which is a direct testament to Stevens’ mother and her departure when he was only three, leaving his stepfather, Lowell, to take care of him.
“John My Beloved” discusses Stevens’ false relationship with his significant other and in his final verse, Stevens pleads to Jesus, “So can we contend, peacefully / Before my history ends? / Jesus I need you, be near, come shield me / From fossils that fall on my head / There’s only a shadow of me; in a manner of speaking I’m dead.”
“Carrie and Lowell” is an unexpected, emotional soliloquy of a desperate 39 year-old who just wants to find solace after the death of his mother.
The album is the most profound piece of work composed by Stevens and showcases the lyrical and mental maturity of one of the greatest storytellers of the 21st century.