Sufjan Stevens’ most recent non-Christmas album, 2010’s The Age of Adz, was one of his most challenging records to date. In place of the hummable melodies and approachable guitar backing of Illinois and Michigan, Stevens bombarded listeners with electronically altered instrumentation, endlessly looped sonic phrases, and even autotuned vocals.
This week Stevens announced a new original album called Carrie & Lowell, which promises to abandon the synthesizers and please fans of the singer-songwriter’s state-themed albums. While Stevens long ago abandoned his plan to record an album for every state in the union, Carrie & Lowell returns to the themes and sounds of that project: The trailer for the album features footage of American landscapes, and the excerpt from the title track that we hear is all banjo and whisper-crooning, unmistakably Sufjan.
Stevens’ website features an opaque explanation of Carrie & Lowell that is also unmistakably Sufjan. I am inclined to embed the entire wacky, self-serious paragraph, but I will limit myself to three sentences:
Stevens’s gauzy double-tracked vocals wash across the dashboard of long-finned, drop-top Americana, yet as we race towards the coast we are reminded that sunshine leads to shadow, for this is a landscape of terminal roads, unsteady bridges, traumatic video stores, and unhappy beds that provide the scenery for tales of jackknifed cars, funerals, and forgiveness for the dead. Each track in this collection of eleven songs begins with a fragile melody that gathers steam until it becomes nothing less than a modern hymn. Sufjan recounts the indignities of our world, of technological distraction and sad sex, of an age without either myths or miracle—and this time around, his voice carries the burden of wisdom.
Carrie & Lowell will be released March 31; you can pre-order it now at sufjan.com.