“Death With Dignity” opens Carrie & Lowell as a touching elegy to Sufjan Stevens’ mother, yet it also could describe his relationship to his own music. “I don’t know where to begin,” he sings, and “I’ve got nothing to prove” over a familiar bed of bluegrass-inspired folk. Stevens was like the A-plus student of indie pop, turning out album after album of perfectly manicured orchestral folk-pop, but I felt like he lost his way a bit with The BQE, an album and project that felt unwieldy, as well the hectic electro-folk of The Age of Adz. Carrie & Lowell, by comparison, is one of his most stripped-down albums to date. That’s not to say it doesn’t have his trademark fixation on detail— songs shift halfway through, like “Should Have Known Better’s” turn into stuttering, laptoppy acoustics and choral touches, or “Drawn to the Blood’s” extended string finale; “you checked your text while I masturbated,” he sings casually, telling a girl she looks like Poseidon in the sexually turbulent “All of Me Wants All of You.” Lyrically and musically, Stevens remains a curious tinkerer, but Carrie & Lowell never feels busy in the slightest. It’s an intensely focused work, one that places Stevens’ voice and songcraft over bells and whistles. Whereas locations and history seemed to hold Stevens’ interest in the past, here he’s death-obsessed (and still spiritual as ever). “Fourth of July” feels romantically morbid and carries the happy refrain “we’re all gonna die,” and on “The Only Thing,” he sounds stricken with grief to the point of barely being able to keep going on. Stevens’ way with language, drawing on mythology and Christian imagery, and ascendant voice keeps the songs from wallowing too deeply, even as they describe an immense sense of loss, allowing those moments when he does break—“No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross’” “Fuck me, I’m falling apart”—to land all the more effectively. Without the filter of a state’s history or the heavy religiosity of Seven Swans, Carrie & Lowell finds Stevens turning his studious eye inward to fully explore his own grief, and the results are never short of breathtaking.
Here’s a list of records to check out that are currently scheduled for release in 2015 (dates/releases subject to change).
This touted Australian singer/songwriter writes anxiety-ridden screeds over catchy garage-rock on her breakthrough record.
Hello! Welcome back to Weekly Roundup. If it’s your first time here, I gather songs and videos by artists from the greater L.A. and Bay Area that have been released over the past week or so. Here’s the first one of 2015.
We’ve already heard the strangely enlivening dark pulse of “Black,” the first single from Oakland artist The Soft Moon’s new album, Deeper (out March 31 on Captured Tracks; preorder now). This Trentemoller remix gives the darkwave track an even dimmer shade, taking it from hedonistic dancefloor jam to musky afterparty track. The Soft Moon will be at S.F.’s The Chapel April 28 and L.A.’s Roxy April 30.
The year’s coming to a close, and it’s time to look ahead. There are already several sure-to-be great albums on the horizon. You can already preorder the ones below.
Out Jan. 13
Experimental pop auteur and Animal Collective member Panda Bear aka Noah Lennox is back with his fifth solo album and first in four years. Like his last album, Tomboy, it’s co-produced by Peter Kember, and it features two songs that have already been premiered, the woozy “Mr Noah” and mind-bending “Boys Latin,” for which you can watch the mesmerizing video below. “Mr Noah” has been already released on a four-song EP of the same name, which includes three more songs; those three extra songs will also be available on the deluxe editions of the album.
The Mantles Release “Brown Balloon,” Long Enough to Leave Due June 18
Lovely new stuff from San Francisco’s The Mantles. “Brown Balloon” echoes a bit of New Zealand’s Flying Nun label (with bands such as The Chills and The Clean) with clean guitars dripping reverb, but the vocals are nicely left largely rough and untouched, giving it a garage feel that goes a long way to set it apart. Loving those pristine guitars that come in about 40 seconds in, as well as the power chords at the chorus — remember those? Long Enough to Leave is out June 18 on Slumberland.
The Soft Moon Unveils “Want” Video
The Soft Moon’s Zeros is a deeply dark, cinematic record, so it makes sense that the video for one of its best songs, “Want,” would follow suit. Feeling somewhere between a nightmare, drug hallucination and horror movie, “Want” calls to mind classic videos like Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” (and similarly to that video, “Want” is very much NSFW, so don’t click if you may be offended by drug use or brief nudity and violence).