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SUFJAN STEVENS

★★★★

DARK MUSIC HEALS DEEP WOUNDS

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By Charlie David Page
29th March 2015
After the release of 2010's distinctive 'The Age Of Adz', no one really know how (or if) Sufjan Stevens would ever follow it up. Full of abrasive electronica, loops and metallic astringency, it was a substantially alternative (yet assuredly extraordinarily memorable) approach to music from the esteemed musician.

Now, Sufjan is set to release his latest album, 'Carrie & Lowell'. From even the most provisional of previews, it's clear that this is a return to the well-trodden and familiar folk sound of his earlier music. At the same time, there's very little in the way of heartwarming temperament of fan favourite 'Chicago'; this is an overall darker, more morose offering.

Although Sufjan's work is frequently based in fiction, or mythology, or inspired by an iconic character, this album has a much more real and raw message, the artist having lost his mother at the end of 2012. Already something of a ghost who passes through his previous work, he wrestles with forgiveness and comprehension for this maternal figure, and on 'Carrie & Lowell', must also try to comprehend her death. Stevens himself said of this record, "This is not my art project; this is my life.”

SUFJAN STEVENS - SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER (OFFICIAL AUDIO)

Troublesome inferences bind this album together. It's about loss, inexplicable or otherwise. Death and disjunction loom like a black cloud over each track. Opening number 'Death With Dignity' bubbles along brightly, disguising the unexpectedly melancholy lyrics like obscured undercurrents in a sign of what's to come. 'The Only Thing' questions the purpose of existence as we delve deeper into a shadowy forest as Stevens reveals, "The only thing that keeps me from cutting my arm, cross hatch, warm bath, Holiday Inn after dark." Further along, 'Fourth Of July' abandons all nuances, offering an eerily confronting description of the passing of a loved one, with Sufjan proclaiming "We're all gonna die."

Instrumentally, this album is one of the sparsest to date; in a drifting daze, you can easily be distracted from the message of the music. There's songs like 'John My Beloved', almost a texture of glockenspiel over which Sufjan lays his vaporous vocals, singing "There's only a shadow of me, in a manner of speaking I'm dead."

Sufjan Stevens has constructed a congruous album, littered with dark tracks that range from perilous potholes to bottomless pits.

Having named the album after the musician's mother and stepfather, a number of the songs take us back to his earliest memories of childhood. "When I was three, three maybe four, she left us at that video store," Sufjan recalls on personal favourite 'Should Have Known Better'. This tune is taken from the same cloth as the 'Illinois' album; shifting from a heavier ambiance to a lighter one, his lyrics advance at varied paces as he airs his regrets in an obliviously repetitious manner.

Sufjan Stevens has constructed a congruous album, littered with dark tracks that range from perilous potholes to bottomless pits. The album's intent is to be quite cathartic, and can also have a similar effect on its listeners. Despite the material, the tone still manages to remain afloat, ensuring each song is heartbreakingly beautiful to listen to.

Sufjan will once again return to Sydney for Vivid LIVE. If you can still manage to get tickets, this is one show you don't want to miss; his captivation on stage is unparalleled. For those who can't make it, we'll be bringing you our review of his live performance in May.

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FAST FACTS
ARTIST: Sufjan Stevens
BEGAN: 1999
FROM: Detroit, Michigan
SOUND: Indie Folk/indie Pop/electronica
WEBSITE: Www.sufjan.com
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