Described many times as his most intimate album to date, Carrie & Lowell is named after his mother and step father. Sufjan was raised by his father Rasjid and stepmother and he spent little time with his mother, who lived with her second husband Lowell Brams in a different state. Carrie suffered from depression, schizophrenia, and alcoholism, before she died in December 2012. How it informed or altered the content of this album is difficult to say, but song titles like ‘Death with Dignity’ seem to draw on his own history. But as with most things contained within Sufjan’s lyrics, it’s hard to say what is truth and what is fiction.
‘I forgive you mother, I can hear you, and I long to be near you, but every road leads to an end’ – Death with Dignity
The most surprising thing about this album is the alteration to the sound. If this album had come immediately after the 2004 album ‘Seven Swans’ it would make a lot more sense in terms of the arrangements. The electronic trickery of his last album, the 2010 release The Age of Adz has been rejected in favour of an shockingly stripped down affair, with guitar, banjo and occasional haunting and quite distant background noises, vocals and remote synths. In truth, he may have pushed the electronic sound as far as it could go in his earlier albums, so maybe this was a natural reaction to it, and it is most welcome.
This is an album that can easily take repeated listening, and only steadily grows as you discover new layers to it. How this album will last when played live will be quite fascinating. Sufjan’s live show has long been quite loud and brash, with a playful edge to it. This is an album suited to quiet rooms and small stages, how it will covert to larger venues will be a discovery. The obvious choice is a complete reworking, but we will have to wait and see what happens. As to a date in Ireland, he is playing the End of the Road festival in England on the 4-6th of September, which just happens to be the same weekend as one Electric Picnic!
Track List –
1. Death with Dignity
2. Should Have Known Better
3. All Of Me Wants All Of You
4. Drawn to the Blood
6. Fourth of July
7. The Only Thing
8. Carrie & Lowell
9. John My Beloved
10. No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross
11. Blue Bucket of Gold