On “Carrie & Lowell”

Im writing this in October 2015. Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens seventh album, came out in March of this year, and has already been reviewed, analyzed, and loved to death. Im not here to do that. My friend Regina told me about this one around July, with a warning that I should probably wait until Im in a really good mood to listen. I did, and it didnt matter. I put it on during a long car ride from one side of LA County to the other, and was instantly hit by how… pretty it was. I had heard a lot about the now famous concept, Sufjan writing songs for his mentally ill mother and a host of other important people in his life,so I was surprised to be hearing genuinely beautiful, almost joyful tunes about childhood abandonment and suicidal thoughts. As the record went on, it started to feel more and more like a coping mechanism; when life gives you lemons, make the sweetest lemonade you can and spike it with whiskey. Its a relatable process, one that takes the highly specific subject matter and turns it into a universal struggle. So relatable that I couldnt finish the record. Around halfway through, I pulled off of the freeway, stopped the album and just sat in my car for a while. I dont think I cried, but I felt physically and emotionally spent in a way thats hard to achieve through music. To be honest, Ive still only made it through the whole thing once or twice. Thats why its my favorite album of the year. Enjoyable music is easy to make. Im not saying theres no craft to it, but theres a lot of it around and you can spend a whole day inside it if you want to. Whats harder to come by is genuinely moving music, music that shakes you to your core, for better or for worse. I can probably count on one hand the number of albums this decade that have really done that for me, and Carrie & Lowell probably hits the hardest. Its easy to forget that a sound wave stimulating your ear drum and sending signals to your brain can do more than just give you a simple form of joy. It can wreck your fucking day if it wants to. I sure as hell cant listen to this record if Im in any kind of off mood, but at the right times, it serves as a reminder that a series of sounds/songs/words can cut down to the very essence of our being.

Ray Begleiter