It’s somewhat presumptuous to be naming this year’s best album in April but, let’s be realistic, Sufjan’s ‘Carrie and Lowell’ could only be toppled by something earth-shatteringly magnificent.
‘Carrie and Lowell’ is an overwhelming, yet understated, 44 minute memoir about abandonment, loss and forgiveness. It is intensely beautiful. There have been clues in Sufjan’s previous albums, flickering utterances of grief as to what was to come. In ‘Romulus’ on the excellent Michigan album, Stevens sings ‘We saw her once last fall / Our Grandpa died in a hospital gown / She didn’t seem to care / She smoked in her room and coloured her hair.’
And a telling line in ‘The Seer’s Tower’ on the equally excellent Illinois, ‘Oh my mother, she betrayed us, but my father loved and bathed us.’
Sufjan’s mother, Carrie, left Sufjan and his three siblings when they were all under ten. It would be several years until young Sufjan saw her again. Carrie had remarried Lowell and it appears that Lowell was responsible for Carrie renewing contact, albeit infrequent and inconsistent contact, with her children. Carrie, who was also an alcoholic and schizophrenic, died of stomach cancer in 2012.
This stuff has to bust out at some stage.
The words in opening track ‘Death with Dignity’ perfectly capture the ethos of this album:
‘I forgive you, mother, I can hear you
And I long to be near you
But every road leads to an end
Yes every road leads to an end
Your apparition passes through me
in the willows:
Five red hens — you’ll never see us again
You’ll never see us again.’
If you enjoyed this, try Seven Swans next.