Sufjan Stevens recently released a new album called Javelin. I’ve been listening to it for a couple of weeks now, and then I read a review from a student-reporter/commentator at Kent State University, which got me thinking more deeply about the album’s themes and context. The review also alerted me to something I’ve been wondering for a while: Stevens’s sexuality. And from there, I did some more internet research to discover that Out Magazine provided more details about the relationship between Stevens and his late partner, Evan Richardson. And that got me thinking even more.

Sufjan Stevens has been a part of my life for the better part of two decades now. Though he’s an American artist, I got to know his music while I was living in Amsterdam, through my friends Kor, and Ariёnne, and Naomi. There was such a vulnerability and pathos to his music that really resonated with some of the more complicated emotions I was learning to navigate at that phase in my life — including insecurity, emotional trauma, culture shock, and seasonal depression. I found his music strange but beautiful. Haunting and mournful, but also tinged with hope. Stevens’s music also spoke with a biblical literacy that surprised me, considering some of the other complicated themes that he tackled.

I have especially strong memories of listening to Sufjan Stevens’s Seven Swans album (2004), his Illinois album (2005), and his Songs for Christmas album (2006) while bicycling through the streets of Amsterdam. Our contexts were completely different, but our emotional angst was very similar.

Sufjan Stevens’s crowning glory, however, may have been his 2015 album Carrie & Lowell. He maximized the guitar finger-picking and austere vocals that he does so well, and he minimized the weird, experimental electronica that he also seems to enjoy (though I do not). He spoke to themes of family dysfunction and death and depression — and maybe we had both just matured enough that his reflections seemed helpful and constructive, not just abysmal and angst-ridden. His songs really got me through a lot, both in my Amsterdam years and in their immediate aftermath.

2023’s Javelin feels to me like a bit of a regression, in that it adds a lot more noise to the music. The opening track, “Evergreen,” is a prime example: the melody is powerful and mesmerizing — but it’s amplified and echoed and bounced back and forth so much that it becomes overwhelming and uncomfortable. Considering the themes of grief that are evident throughout the rest of the album and the context in which it was released, this may well have been a deliberate choice by the artist. But it still makes it harder to listen to. The emotions feel more muddled, too. Maybe I just need to listen to it more, but it’s just harder to understand what he seems to be trying to say throughout the course of this album. If you ever get a chance to listen to this album, I’d love to interact with you more about it sometime. Maybe that will help me understand it better.

Even with the confusion, however, there are still some absolute gems on this new album. My favorite is probably “Running Start,” which has a really unique time signature and rhythm. But I also really appreciate “Sh!t Talk” and “Will Anybody Ever Love Me” — both for their lyrical elements and musical elements. I feel a lot of empathy for Sufjan Stevens: the Person — not just Sufjan Stevens: the Musical Artist. I hope that he’s doing all right. In any event, though, I intend to keep listening to- and processing this album. It’s perfect late-autumn listening, if you ask me.

This entry was posted in Health, Introspection, Music, Recommendations, Recommended Listening, Seasonal Depression, Sexuality. Bookmark the permalink.

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