By Cate Cianci, Staff Writer
Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Favorite Songs: “Goodbye Evergreen” “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” and “There’s a World”
RETURN TO FORM
On October 6th, the multi-genre talent of Sufjan Stevens made a dazzling return to the singer-songwriter genre. Javelin is Stevens’s first solo singer-songwriter album since his spectacular Carrie and Lowell in 2015. After Carrie and Lowell, Stevens took a break from the genre. He worked on wonderful instrumental albums like The Planetarium, and more experimental music with The Ascencion.
Javelin is different from most of Stevens’ work being it isn’t a concept album. Stevens is known for projects like Illinois and Michigan where he tells the stories of the states through his music. Even Carrie and Lowell is a concept album, telling the story of his mother’s death and her short marriage to her ex-husband Lowell. Before listening to the album, I was unsure whether the record would still read the same as Stevens’ other projects. I have loved Sufjan Stevens for a long time, because listening to his albums is like cracking open a book. I soon began to realize, Javelin isn’t a story like Stevens’s past works, but a series of personal truths that Stevens shares with us.
The physical album was released with a series of personal essays, describing different defining moments of Stevens’ life. Reading these furthered why listening to the album is so intimate.
After a period of relative silence on social media, Sufjan Stevens announced that he had been diagnosed with Guillen-Barre Syndrome. His treatment had prevented him from doing too much press for the album but he thanked fans for their love and support. He added that the treatment stopped the disease from spreading to his lungs, but he was undergoing intensive physical therapy to gain control of his legs. He kept fans posted on his Tumblr, posting updates about his therapy and photos of his wheelchair (which he has dubbed the “Porche 911 of wheelchairs”).
Stevens also announced on social media that Javelin was dedicated to his “partner and best-friend” Evans Richardson, who passed away in April. Stevens asked us a favor: “if you find that kind of love, hold it close, hold it tight.”
Through everything, Stevens’ music is a beacon of hope for many listeners. Stevens’ Javelin is a tribute to hope, love, and life.
A MASH-UP OF THE STEVENS SOUND
The lead track, “Goodbye Evergreen,” showcases Stevens’ strengths beautifully. The heartbreaking lyrics represent previous tracks like “Blue Bucket of Gold” from albums like Carrie and Lowell. Around a minute into the song, we are greeted with the almost industrial percussion of albums like Age Of Adz. This drew me in completely. Stevens’ composition prowess is something holy to witness. He beautifully melds these unique percussive sounds into a ballad about losing a longtime lover.
Stevens shines on this album vocally as well. His soft voice is mixed perfectly with the soft piano and guitar. We’ve seen him shine like this on past projects, but something in his voice sounds stronger and more sure. My favorite setting for Stevens is his voice and a guitar. There’s truly something so magical about just concentrating on his beautiful lyricism. Lyrics like “Pledge allegiance to my burning heart,” in “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?,” and “While I return to death,” in “So You Are Tired,” showcase a melancholy that we’ve known Stevens to have mastered. What sets Javelin apart from the known is some of the brilliantly hopeful lyrics.
The album ends with “There’s A World," a spectacular Neil Young cover. Stevens ends the album very intentionally with this cover. Not only was it wonderful for me to listen to some semblance of Neil Young on Spotify, but the instrumentation of the cover is so uniquely Sufjan Stevens. I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I listened. It felt like he was communicating in a universal language, one I didn’t know I could understand till I listened. Ending the album with “There’s A World” was such a brilliant choice. At the end of it all, after all the loss, grief, and self-reflection, Sufjan Stevens wants the world to know that we all “have a part” in this world. I’m happy Stevens is around to play his part.