Asthmatic Kitty Records

Sufjan Stevens

Carrie & Lowell

Catalog: AKR099
Release date: March 31, 2015
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Sitting in a coffee shop this morning I looked out the window and I saw two women, a mother and a daughter, holding hands, and even though they were buttoned up in their overcoats and little hats, and the sun was cold and beating down on them in a way that didn’t make a difference to anyone, let alone the frigid winter air, it made a difference to me because the sun, such as it was, illuminated the intimacy of their gesture; there was nothing performative about it. You know what I mean, you’ve seen it all before, all that exaggerated physical affection some people put on outdoors, like another bit of costuming in the theater of the world, all in a bid to legitimize their having “scored” on the relationship front, thus making them a valid member of society at large. But there was nothing performative about the two women and their closeness as they walked past the coffee shop windows this morning, a mother and daughter, clearly, alike in their interest in one another, their sharp features, and the intimacy of their thin gloved hands intertwined. It’s interesting, but I have found that this kind of physicality only happens between generally ethnic women–a little old world charm in New world bustle–and I wondered about that as the women disappeared down the street, and I wondered why there was relatively little of that touching, of the young respecting the old, in the world of New York at large, where one sees so much shunning of the past to make room for the soon to be discarded new. And as I sat in the coffee shop following this line of thought I thought of the sound of intimacy that I find in Sufjan Stevens’ work, not the too often quoted sound of silence Simon and Garfunkel described so many decades ago now, but the sound of intimacy–the brushing up of hands against each other, and hearts, too–that I found on his new album, which is named for his mother and step father and has so much to do with generations, of life passing from the elder to the younger and how do we hold hands with the young when they want to get away and make their own narrative of beauty and ugliness and coupling? The sound of silence! That wasn’t an arbitrary mention of an old song; I was reminded of it because of Sufjan’s Stevens’ lyrics, the first song on “Carrie and Lowell”–“Death with Dignity.” There Stevens sings this: “Spirit of my silence I can hear you.” And then this: “But I’m afraid to be near you.” Of course, silence usually prompts reflection and that is the work of consciousness–to think, weigh, observe, meditate on the experience that has happened or is about to happen or might not at all: the dreams and realities of life. If “Carrie and Lowell” is about anything it’s about the work of thinking through song, the planting of various philosophies in an aural playground where all is not joyous but there is no absence of joy since the spirit is lifted up by creation, and the telling of stories that lead to other thoughts, the artist’s spirit sitting in silence and his voice and his playing. On “Carrie and Lowell, “ the title song, Sufjan Stevens sings: “Under the pear tree/Shadows and lights conspiring.” This is not just a beautiful, mysterious image, but a riddle one feels one wants to solve. What do the shadows and lights conspire to do? Whom do they effect? The poet, of course, since it’s the poet’s eye that connects us to the story he means to tell in this lyric, and the next and the next, all adding up to: my vision is my consciousness and from that reflection rises like sound and silence, or intimacy. In “Carrie and Lowell,” Sufjan Stevens is a child again or, more specifically, the child character in the family of man drama that often but not always centers on the story of love given, or love forsaken, but isn’t that the same thing to the poet? That the love Stevens sings about having left or given or been born to–thank you, Carrie–is a perceptible wound not only on the singer’s throat, but his sleeve: he wears love’s incomprehensibility, and the deep incomprehensibility of being a son, like a backing vocal on “Carrie and Lowell,” which is also filled with colors, hearts, trees, conclusions, and beginnings, all adding up to the kind of intimacy that caught my eye the morning I sat in the diner waiting for the sun to get stronger as I saw intimacy pass by while going about it’s business, like something sung and felt by Sufjan Stevens on his new beautiful solitary and rich record filled with faith and disbelief and the resurrection of trust and dreams. – HILTON ALS