It's a rare occasion that you listen to an album and it hits you and affects you on such a deep and intimate level. Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell left me in tears halfway through listening, and struck such an emotional chord that I wasn't really sure what to do. It was absolutely beautiful.
I've listened to Sufjan in the past and have definitely enjoyed his music, but never has it hit such a nerve before. To be completely honest, I haven't listened to an album like this in a very long time that elicited such a response. It's raw and it's so delicate, it stunned me right away and captivated me entirely. Something about it was so hauntingly fragile, and suddenly the whole room felt still, like it was filled with ghosts that had stories to tell.
I needed to know immediately what it was about. Who were Carrie and Lowell? Why was it that this album, after all his previous ones, had such an impact on me?
I read Pitchfork's review immediately and found out a bit. Turns out, Carrie & Lowell is essentially his autobiography. The album is titled after Steven's mother and stepfather. "Carrie was bipolar and schizophrenic and suffered from drug addiction and substance abuse. She died of stomach cancer in 2012." His stepfather, Lowell, was married to Carrie for 5 years while Sufjan was a child, but clearly left a massive impact on his life. This is the album's main narrative, with some songs a back and forth conversation with his mother, post mortem.
Listening to it with this in mind, with the sense of loneliness, loss, and despair, is truly impactful. On top of that you add the melancholy and melodic orchestras and delicate strings that make it truly a masterpiece. Looking at the photos on the album art, they suddenly have such an impactful meaning.
A stand out song to me was Fourth of July. A song that I played over and over, repeatedly. With a somber tone throughout, it's a conversation between his mother and him on her deathbed. With his voice in a near whisper and with an airy and delicate piano backing, he ends the song with a repeated lyric of "We're all gonna die." I didn't see it as something tinged with hopelessness, I saw it as a philosophical revelation of acceptance. To be at peace of the mystery of afterlife.
The album seemed to evoke thoughts in my head that have been suppressed repeatedly. Any thoughts of loneliness or emptiness I've ever felt seem to come back in this grandiose wave and I guess I just didn't really know how to take it all. Although the album is about Sufjan's own personal life, it's extremely relatable and leaves you reflecting. Feelings of doubt, personal guilt, questions regarding life and the unknown, and our own self destructive tendencies. I think it's absolutely breathtaking when an album has the ability to have such an effect on someone. For that reason, I think it's one of the most impactful pieces of art I've heard in a very, very long time.
And for that, thank you Mr. Stevens.