One of the key benefits criticism can provide is clarity. I am so thankful for this Pitchfork review of the new Sufjan Stevens album.
I’d listened though once or twice, but I didn’t know how autobiographical Carrie & Lowell was. Knowing that Stevens is speaking more plainly about his experiences this time around changes everything. I’d started to feel a little disconnected from his work, but this passage from the review (it’s actually a quote from an interview Pitchfork did with Stevens) helped me to both understand and repair that strained connection:
With this record, I needed to extract myself out of this environment of make-believe. It’s something that was necessary for me to do in the wake of my mother’s death—to pursue a sense of peace and serenity in spite of suffering. It’s not really trying to say anything new, or prove anything, or innovate. It feels artless, which is a good thing. This is not my art project; this is my life.
There’s a chance that a combination of close listening, time, and research would have revealed the album’s personal nature, but that chance is small. I probably wouldn’t have gotten there, and it would have been a shame, because it’s clear now that there’s a wellspring of honesty running through Carrie & Lowell — the kind that makes confronting the painful parts your own past and present seem a little more possible.
Click here to read the review I’m talking about, and link to two Carrie & Lowell tracks below. Soundcloud embedding is disabled, unfortunately, but you can stroll over to NPR to get a First Listen of the whole thing, which officially comes out tomorrow.