REVIEW album Old Subbacultcha Old Subbacultcha

Sufjan Stevens Confesses All In Heart-Wrenching Album Of The Year

Old Subbacultcha

Old Subbacultcha

It’s back to his folk roots as Stevens’ laments his experiences with grief and religion.

Carrie cover

2015 has so far seen a return to the confessional. Already in March we’ve had deeply personal and troubled releases from Bjork and Laura Marling, and even Madonna has bared all with her most risque album in years, ‘Rebel Heart’.

Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Carrie & Lowell’, named after his recently deceased mother and his stepfather, is the most heart-wrenching of the lot. Musically a return to the sparse acoustic guitar and banjo-backed form which served him so well on biblical song collection ‘Seven Swans’, Stevens’ already familiar hushed vocal style sounds here even more precious than before.

Unlike some of his more elaborate and eclectic albums, ‘The Age of Ads’ and his two US state records ‘Michigan’ and ‘Illinois’, ‘Carrie & Lowell’ takes some time to reveal its secrets, even if the lyrics lay bare turmoil from the off.

Built on backbone of exquisite melodic finger-picking, ‘Should Have Known Better’ is a rumination of regret. “I should have wrote a letter, and grieve what I happened to grieve, my black shroud, I never trust my feelings,” he toils before a flashback to when he was “three, maybe four” and being left at a video store.

These are confessions with no stones unturned. ‘John My Beloved’ tells of “stumbling words at the bar” and a “man with a heart that offends with its lonely and weedy demands”, while in ‘All Of Me Wants All Of You’ someone checks a text while he’s masturbating.

“Fuck me, I’m falling apart,” he exclaims on ‘No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross’; Christianity seemingly no comfort in the face of the inevitability of death. It’s just one uncomfortable moment in an album full of such pained junctures.

A difficult album to review then, but still an incredible piece of work. “What’s the point of singing songs if they’ll never even hear you,” Stevens laments on one it’s most gorgeous ballads, ‘Eugene’. We should all be grateful he’s let us listen in.

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Words by Gary Shepherd