In 2015 Sufjan Stevens released my favourite album since the turn of the millennium, Carrie & Lowell: a quietly devastating, emotionally broad work that tackles Stevens’ reconciliation with his mother and her subsequent death. Anyone who has dealt with the loss of a parent can find some solace in Stevens’ emotional outpouring. Due to the death of my mother when I was a teenager it’s an album I don’t play much, but when I do I really feel it. Subsequently Stevens has produced instrumental albums that are baroque and orchestral, alongside collaborations and a synth-led record. Many were hoping for his return to the intimate folk of Carrie & Lowell, and with Javelin Stevens has presented this, in a beautiful marriage with his orchestral sound.
Opener ‘Goodbye Evergreen’ sets Stevens’ intent – he has dedicated the track to his partner Evans Richardson, who passed away in April. The album deals with loss, as did its predecessor. This time the loss is that of his true love, rather than a mother who abandoned him as a child. The starkness in lyrics and instrumentation of Carrie & Lowell hits hard. Here all of the tracks are guided by acoustic guitars and keys so warm and close you can feel them burrow into your heart. Around these beautifully played parts, orchestral arrangements and female choir voices snake, and lift the songs depending on the emotions Stevens conveys.
There is a cathartic release in each. ‘Goodbye Evergreen’ opens so quietly you may have to strain your ear, then suddenly explodes into percussive and instrumental complexity. ‘Will Anybody Ever Love Me?’ is a plea to the stars that he will find someone again; the tone is hopeful yet mournful. ‘So You Are Tired’ has a transcendent mix of keys and acoustic guitar, its rhythm drifting yet forceful, its lyrics concerned with the contents of a relationship past. The wonderfully titled ‘Shit Talk’ carries the same theme, this time on a bed of twin acoustics, one played empathetically by Bryce Dessner of The National.
The album’s final track comes with a cover of Neil Young’s ‘There’s a World’, from his classic record Harvest – I occasionally skip the original, as the grandiose arrangements by the London Symphony Orchestra cloud the simple beauty of Young’s music. Stevens strips it back to just vocal and haunting acoustic guitar, and the journey is complete.
There’s a world you’re living in
No one else has your part
All God’s children in the wind
Take it in and blow real hard.
Javelin is out now on Asthmatic Kitty records