Review: “Carrie and Lowell” by Sufjan Stevens


Ah, Sufjan Stevens. Maybe one of these days I’ll figure out the correct pronunciation of your name.

On this, Stevens’s seventh studio album, he has produced a deeply melancholic, acoustic-driven collection of songs. Lyrically, Carrie & Lowell is acutely personal, revolving around themes of loss, forgiveness, and regret. The main overarching theme of the album is the loss of his mother, but he translates this into something universal, something relatable.

The lyrics are delivered in a near-whisper for almost the entire album, with Stevens crooning over gentle acoustic guitars. I can’t help but be reminded of Beck’s album Morning Phase, which, like Carrie & Lowell, was built heavily on simple acoustic melodies and reflective lyrics.

The choices made on the album (production-wise) are interesting, keeping Stevens’ vocals relatively soft. The choice isn’t a bad one, however – the softness gifts the album with a sense of intimacy, as if listening to it is akin to having a one-on-one conversation with Stevens himself.

Compared to Stevens’s previous album, 2010’s The Age of Adz, this album feels like the polar opposite. Where The Age of Adz, was electronic-heavy, long, and loud, Carrie & Lowell contains no traces of electronics, is relatively short, quiet, and gentle. It’s an interesting transition between the two, akin to perhaps Kanye West’s transition between the heavily maximalist My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to the minimalist Yeezus.

Overall, this album is definitely not perfect. While as a whole it’s generally pretty consistent, there are a couple of moments in the second half that seem to run out of steam for a bit. The album is, however, an emotional, intimate journey into the mind of one of the most eclectic artists today.

Carrie and Lowell comes out on March 31 via Asthmatic Kitty Records.  Check out the video for “Should Have Known Better” below: