Slowin’ it down substantially for this week’s SONG OF THE WEEK. Indie folk mainstay, Sufjan Stevens recently dropped what’s been described by critics as his best album yet. By now the album’s main narrative is well-known. Carrie & Lowell is titled after Stevens’ mother and stepfather. Carrie was bipolar and schizophrenic and suffered from drug addiction and substance abuse. She died of stomach cancer in 2012, but had abandoned Stevens much earlier, first when he was 1, then later, repeatedly (“when I was three, three maybe four, she left us at that video store,” he sings on “Should Have Known Better” <– SONG OF THE WEEK. Click the song title to listen). His stepfather, Lowell Brams, was married to Carrie for five years when Sufjan was a child. As a testament to the importance of his role in Stevens’ life, Brams currently runs Stevens’ label, Asthmatic Kitty, and shows up repeatedly in the record, most poignantly on the title track, where Stevens frames those five years as his “season of hope.”
Stevens has always written personally, weaving his life story into larger narratives, but here his autobiography, front and center, is itself the grand history. The songs explore childhood, family, grief, depression, loneliness, faith, and rebirth in direct and unflinching language that matches the scaled-back instrumentation. There are Biblical references, and references to mythology, but most of it is squarely about Stevens and his family.
So maybe this week’s SONG OF THE WEEK is really more of an ALBUM OF THE WEEK… Listen to Carrie & Lowell from start to finish. It is absolutely stunning.