Album Review: Sufjan Stevens’ “Carrie and Lowell”

Carrie and Lowell

It’s been four and a half years since Sufjan Stevens last released a studio album, and the folk singer’s latest offering is worth the wait. Carrie and Lowell, Stevens’ seventh album, named for his mother and step-father, is a return to more familiar sounds for Stevens.

Stevens’ 2010 album The Age of Adz was a radical departure from his previous works, blending electronic sounds with his more traditional instrumentation to create a booming and, at times, disquieting experience. While I thoroughly enjoyed the new direction, it seems that Stevens has decided to put that style on hold for Carrie and Lowell, instead favoring a more subtle acoustic approach to the music. The moniker of “folk music” certainly fits this album more than the last. Yet, Carrie and Lowell does not feel similar to Stevens’ 2005 smash hit Illinois, either, which prominently featured layered orchestration and a bombastic, energetic sound on many of its tracks. Carrie and Lowell feels most similar to his 2003 album Michigan to me. Stevens’ voice is central in most of the tracks, and the combination of it and his acoustic guitar provide a soothing atmosphere throughout the album.

Stevens’ talent for lyrics has not left him, and his curious talent for mixing his religious experiences into his songs without making “Christian music” still serves him well. Carrie and Lowell, as the name suggests, was prominently inspired by Stevens’ experiences with his family. His mother passed away in 2012, and this provides context for one of the album’s standout tracks, “The Fourth of July.” The theme of reminiscing on childhood, and about wondering if one has made the correct choices since then, is another important aspect of the album.

With eleven tracks, the longest of which just surpasses five minutes in length, Carrie and Lowell is a faster listen than other of his albums, but rewards repeated listens. Standout tracks include “Should Have Known Better,” “Fourth of July,” “The Only Thing,” and “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross.” I can’t recommend cherry-picking songs, though; Carrie and Lowell is best experienced as a whole.

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La, La, La Brunonia: November in music, at a glance

Can you believe it’s already November? Hopefully your midterms are (at least almost) over, and you’re set to coast until Thanksgiving. BlogDH is back with your monthly dose of new and live music this month that can serve as your soundtrack.

Here’s the Concert Round-up:

In Providence this month are Wild Feathers, The Apache Relay, and Desert Noises, all playing a show together on the 16th at Fete. Desert Noises played at Lollapalooza this year, and despite being billed on one of the smallest stages, they drew a huge crowd. Not to mention, if there was a “Guy Who Looks Like Blake From Workaholics” contest, their drummer would hands down win.

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We’ve all pretended to know what Shaggy is actually saying when he raps, but since he’s playing at The Met on the 8th, you can actually find out!

If you are too indie to be into alternative, The Singles are playing a show at AS220 on the 11th. If you’re not indie enough to know what AS220 is, listen here for the gist of the mission statement given by the founder.

Also happening on the 11th, FKA Twigs will be playing at Brighton Hall in Boston. The show starts at 6 pm, which is pretty early, especially considering her vampire boyfriend, Robert Patinson, doesn’t do well with sunlight.

Another notable show in Boston this month: American Authors & The Mowglis are at the Paradise Rock Club on the 4th. And if you think the Mowgli’s have too much incense and not enough rock, at the same venue on the 5th is Circa Survive.

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When the Mowgli’s played Providence last year

Junior Prom, Kimbra, and Rubblebucket are all playing separate shows around various venues in Boston on the 9th, or you could see Fitz and the Tantrums and Big Data team up for one show on the 16th at the House of Blues.

But most importantly, the top three Boston shows you shouldn’t miss this November:

Julian Casablancas + The Voidz 11/26 @ House of Blues

Alt- J 11/18 @ The Orpheum

and BOB DYLAN 11/14 @ The Orpheum

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La, La, La Brunonia: October in music, at a glance

So you are officially back to school. Your schedule is completely figured out, you’ve tried a couple new things, and now you’re realizing exactly how busy you are. Between studying for midterms and celebrating Brown’s birthday, Blog knows you hardly have time to find new music and we’re here to help. This column will give you a preview of all the releases and shows you can look forward to in the following month. We’ll feature up-and-coming albums, concerts, and artists so you don’t miss anything going on in the area. If there’s a show we don’t know about, share the info and we’ll throw it in! For starters, here are the new releases you can expect for October:

In keeping with her success in winter-themed things, Idina Menzel will be jumping the gun by releasing Holiday Wishes on the 14th. Also releasing albums on the 14th are Jessie J with Sweet Talker, produced by Diplo, and Andrew McMahon with In The Wilderness.  If McMahon’s name sounds at all familiar or brings back memories of taking yourself too seriously in middle school, that’s because you might know him as the lead singer of Jack’s Mannequin. Charli XCX is releasing her sophomore album on the 21st of October. You know Iggy Azalea ’s “Fancy”? Written by Charli XCX. Icona Pop’s “I Love It”? Written by Charli XCX. That one song you had stuck in your head for a week? Probably still Charli XCX.

Charli XCX goes back to school in her "Break the Rules" music video

Charli XCX is back to school too!

If these artists aren’t doing it for you, then there’s always the new T.I. album, Paperwork: The Motion Picture, or Lil’ Wayne’s The Carter V, released on the 21st and 28th respectively.  If you’re feeling retro, Weezer’s first album in four years is debuting on the 7th, and not to be outdone in the retro category, Jackson Browne’s new album comes out the same day.

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Students who do cool things: Goodman ’13

Michael Goodman has loved music for as long as he can remember. He started writing music as a young child and hasn’t stopped since. His favorite genres of music are Rock and Roll and ’60s bubblegum pop, and looks to artists and bands like The Everly Brothers, Brian Eno, John Kale, and Del Shannon for inspiration. As a Literary Arts and MCM Production double concentrator, he continues to pursue his passions for music, film, acting, and writing at Brown. He is also the creator of The Blog theme song (if you don’t know what that means, go fix that). Oh…and his new album comes out today. Continue Reading