Carrie & Lowell isn’t a return to the tentative woodsy footprints of 2004’s Seven Swans. It’s an album hollowed by grief, as expansive as Adz but without the verve.
Stevens has finally revealed himself to be the person in his first-person pieces, and his songwriting lifts itself to new heights for that admission.
It’s tricky territory to navigate in these cynical times, and hardened hearts and ears might find it off-putting. But meet Carrie & Lowell on its terms and it’s revelatory.
For the first time in his career, Stevens has removed all the artifice and high-concept safety curtains from around his work and dealt, straight, with his own life in all its unflinching ugliness. That he’s managed to do it with such poise, hope, quiet power and affecting grace is a musical and emotionally cathartic triumph.
The music matches the lyrics, managing to be both overwhelming and understated: melodies match sentiment with perfect judgment. Carrie & Lowell is a delight in every way, surely one of the albums of the year.
As long as Stevens continues to pursue the unanswerable and chase down myths and ghosts, he'll continue to make incredible music. Carrie & Lowell is just the latest in a long line of unimpeachable achievements.
Carrie & Lowell is a demonstration of why Stevens sings songs, of why we listen to songs: to feel less alone, to make sense of the things that are hardest to make sense of. Hopefully it proves as rewarding to the singer as it is for his audience.
This record is a return to the spare folk of Seven Swans, but with a decade's worth of honing and exploration packed into it. It already feels like his most classic and pure effort.
With its quiet meditations on mental illness, God, and death, Carrie is a hauntingly beautiful bummer.
For one thing, he hasn't made an album this restrained in its sonic palette since 2004's Seven Swans ... For another, he's never produced an album this nakedly autobiographical, so stripped of complex conceptual trappings
A collection of songs as captivating, poignant and finally, ultimately, redemptive as any that Stevens has produced.
Carrie And Lowell is an introspective, deeply thoughtful album but it deftly avoids self-indulgence. It feels like a healing process, not just for its creator, but for its audience too.
No matter how desperate Sufjan gets ...he’s resolutely serene, his emotion swathed in glistening guitar tones and angelic harmonies, spooling out his genius as casually as breathing.
Stevens invites us to peer into a cathartic moment in his life without any trace of irony, bound by his faith, the geniality of his compositions often belying the grief that hides beneath the surface.
Shared with us in the most intimate of atmospheres, it’s so threadbare that you might as well be sitting in his apartment with him as he sings and plays you his life story.
Carrie & Lowell demonstrates, brilliantly and harrowingly, over and over again, how life’s most valuable lessons can only be gleaned by enduring its worst circumstances.
It may well be our first insight into the real Sufjan. It's heavy, but so very beautiful.
Despite its light-handed approach, Carrie & Lowell strikes with a sort of urgency unparalleled across the composer's 15-year career.
Carrie & Lowell is the sound of Stevens trying to process this loneliness, and to find some peace and kinship through his music. That he can create such beauty in such sorrow is, without exaggeration, the very reason art came to be.
Despite soul-baring moments, it almost feels like we learn more about Carrie than we do her son; he remains a beautiful enigma.
It's Stevens' own life and relationships that he mines here with his trademark deftness and nuance. And gosh, what agonizing, cathartic beauty he's shared.
Carrie & Lowell is the most harrowingly personal work Stevens has offered us to date; it also ranks with his most skillfully crafted albums despite its spartan approach.
Lyrically it's uncompromising, dark and surprisingly direct – mentions of blood, death and ghosts are plastered all over its 11 tracks – but there's a real beauty to Carrie & Lowell that shines through the darkness.
Stevens strips his sound far enough to reveal his deepest anguish; neither the Disney-style orchestras of 2005's Illinois nor the synth-pop-as-craft-project of 2010's The Age of Adz peek through his acoustic fingerpicking and warm-milk voice.
Though it’s easily his best and most powerful album since 2005’s Illinois, it never quite reaches the same sweeping highs of that epic concept album. But this effort is a success on its own terms, hushed as they may be.
You won’t walk away humming the tunes, but Carrie and Lowell will stay with you. Sufjan has prettier albums, and sweeter albums, but none has the impact of Carrie and Lowell.
While death and pain are major players in this collection of songs, the record is more about love than tragedy - although it can still make you bawl your eyes out if you listen to the words closely enough.
A tender, affecting album that, through its jumble of religious allusions, nature imagery, classical references, half-remembered visions and overwhelming sense of loss, has a simple message.
|# 3 -||A.V. Club|
|# 10 -||American Songwriter|
|# 35 -||Blare|
|# 5 -||Clash|
|# 32 -||Complex|
|# 2 -||Consequence of Sound|
|# 7 -||Crack Magazine|
|# 12 -||CraveOnline|
|# 1 -||Diffuser|
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|# 7 -||FasterLouder|
|# 5 -||FLOOD|
|# 4 -||Gigwise|
|# 13 -||Gorilla vs. Bear|
|# 7 -||Loud and Quiet|
|# 8 -||Magnet|
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|# 10 -||MOJO|
|# 3 -||musicOMH|
|# 24 -||NME|
|# 2 -||No Ripcord|
|# 25 -||Noisey|
|# 11 -||Norman Records|
|# 8 -||NOW Magazine|
|# 6 -||Paste|
|# 7 -||Piccadilly Records|
|# 41 -||Pigeons & Planes|
|# 6 -||Pitchfork|
|# 6 -||PopMatters|
|# 4 -||Pretty Much Amazing|
|# 40 -||Q Magazine|
|# 12 -||Rough Trade|
|# 21 -||SPIN|
|# 2 -||Sputnikmusic|
|# 5 -||Stereogum|
|# 7 -||The 405|
|# 3 -||The Daily Beast|
|# 2 -||The Guardian|
|The Line of Best Fit|
|# 25 -||The Quietus|
|# 2 -||The Skinny|
|# 7 -||Time Out London|
|# 7 -||Tiny Mix Tapes|
|# 11 -||Treble|
|# 3 -||Uncut|
|# 5 -||Under the Radar|
|# 4 -||Variance|
|# 8 -||Vulture|
|Billboard (First Half)|
|# 30 -||Complex (First Half)|
|# 4 -||Exclaim (First Half)|
|# 1 -||Exclaim (Folk & Country)|
|FasterLouder (First Half)|
|Flavorwire (First Half)|
|# 5 -||Gorilla vs. Bear (First Half)|
|NME (First Half)|
|NPR Music (First Half)|
|# 4 -||Paste (First Half)|
|# 14 -||Pigeons & Planes (First Half)|
|Rolling Stone (First Half)|
|SPIN (First Half)|
|# 1 -||Stereogum (First Half)|