A back to the origin. This is it. A return to that classic pure folk of Seven Swans that has cautivated us on the past. But with years of experience behind his back, we face us with a grown, mature Sufjan; Clearer. Deeper. Consistent.
Carrie & Lowell is an intimate experience. It cove on your bones, speaks to your soul and remains in your mind. Join me through this review about one of the more heartrending album ever done.
Carrie & Lowell: The introspective look.
Nothing is better than hear Sufjan just being Sufjan, stripped off all splashy musical arrangements. In this powerfull album you won’t find a big orchestral or electronic freakouts, instead of that, you’ll be touched by a guy only with a guitar (or a piano) and his gorgeous heartbreaking whisper.
The name of the album alludes to its well known content: Carrie was Stevens’ mother name and Lowell was the name of his stepfather. Even though it isn’t the first time that Sufjan writes something related with his life, this goes even further: it’s a deep introspective journey through his childhood, his life, his tormented affections.
Remaining authentic and loyal to his style, Stevens has mixed fragments to his own life history, with several allusions to The Bible and fantastical references to Greek mythology and American fables. There are also many allusions to Oregon throughout Carrie & Lowell. He spent a few summers there, during his childhood, with his mother and stepfather. Those family trips are some of the few memories that he has of his mother.
Carrie was bipolar and schizophrenic, and she suffered from drug addiction and substance abuse. She died in 2012, but she had abandoned Stevens much earlier; first when he was 1, later, she reappeared and disappear, intermittently, throughout his childhood (“when I was three, three maybe four, she left us at that video store,” Sufjan sings on “Should Have Known Better”).
In Carrie & Lowell Sufjan brings out all of the hurt and confusion related to the relationship with his mother as well as the emptiness and the pain that has left behind her passing. As he told Pitchfork, during an interview:
“With this record, I needed to extract myself out of this environment of make-believe (…) It’s something that was necessary for me to do in the wake of my mother’s death—to pursue a sense of peace and serenity in spite of suffering. It’s not really trying to say anything new, or prove anything, or innovate. It feels artless, which is a good thing. This is not my art project; this is my life.”
Through extremely poetic lyrics, Sufjan reveals deepest and conflicted feelings: there is love, guilt, anger, regret (“I should have wrote a letter/ Explaining what I feel, that empty feeling”), sadness, nostalgia, repentance, suicidal thoughts, violence, drug abuse, disconnected relationships, shadows and emptiness (“In a manner of speaking I’m dead”). But, over all, a profound desire to be closer to his mother. An urgent need to materialize her memory, to run an encounter with her: “I just wanted to be near you,” he claims on the album, exposing the core of his own feelings.
His relationship with his mother is complex: He has never hated her. He can feel her presence, and everything comes back to her in one way or another: “I love you more than the world can contain, in its lonely and ramshackle head”, as is heartbreakingly suggested in the song “John my beloved”.
Carrie, never completely known, remains being a mystery for Stevens. However, as part of a healing process, he reinvents her, transforms her into song, melody, poetry.
“There was always speculation too, like, “Where is she? What is she doing?” As a kid, of course, I had to construct some kind of narrative, so I’ve always had a strange relationship to the mythology of Carrie, because I have such few lived memories of my experience with her. There’s such a discrepancy between my time and relationship with her, and my desire to know her and be with her.”
Carrie & Lowell is an intimate experience. The captivating well-detailed lyrics, so caracteristic of Sufjan, gets right to your bones, speaks to your soul and remains in your mind. Regret, grief and anger aren’t the only feelings which are exposed here. The songs explore childhood, family, grief, depression, loneliness, faith, and rebirth in direct and unflinching language that matches the scaled-back instrumentation.
“… This description of her reminds me of what some people have observed about my work and my manic contradiction of aesthetics: deep sorrow mixed with something provocative, playful, frantic.”
Carrie & Lowell offers to us rending feelings extraordinarily accompanied by a great melodic subtlety. You would even forget that music is there, but if you don’t, I guarantee, you’ll be delighted with the catchy, inventive, melodic and seamless rhythms. The haunting production, too, is minimal but intense, deep, fathomless.
Well, without more to add, I’ll let you enjoy the album: