On his tenth album Sufjan Stevens has borrowed much from his back catalogue to make perhaps his most complete album so far.
Thirteen years ago my review of Stevens’ album Age of Adz sparked a mini backlash, well mini because we are a little music blog so rarely get too many response to our reviews. I just couldn’t get into its slicker electronic production. A bleep, a click and a whirr too far for me, much to the annoyance of his loyal fans.
I’ve always been a Michigan and Illinois kind of guy, loving the way the melodies and often heartbreaking lyrics were performed as mini-film folk pop film scores on those albums.
Carrie and Lowell, about Stevens childhood and the death of his estranged mother to cancer, was another highly impressive album for me. So intimate, so sad and thought provoking.
And here on his tenth album Javelin, there is a bit of them all. That sweeping film score feel. There’s plenty of melodic folk and soft, intimate singing backed by soft folk music too. And there’s slick sounding production at its most epic, which echoes Age of Adz’ commercial appeal, even if it was lost on me.
After listening to this obsessively for a week or so this may be my favourite Stevens album. Surely that is the dream of all artists, for fans to love their latest album the most, until the next comes along?
The choral aspect is one stand out for me in the production, sounding like it should be in a heavenly scene in a old movie at times.
While largely recorded by himself at his home studio, it includes great harmonies from Adrienne Maree Brown, Hannah Cohen, Pauline Delassus, Megan Lui, and Nedelle Torrisi, among others.
Another who joins is the National’s guitarist Bryce Dessner.
Promotion for the album makes it clear that while it may seem to have a big production it is still an intimate album by a singer songwriter, recorded at home.
Opener Goodbye Evergreen is a case in point. Starts off so tender, just his voice and piano. Then it builds up. Backing vocals come in, then bass, then full band. What a track.
This similar theme continues on A Running Start, soft start, then spiritual harmonies aplenty.
Will Anybody Ever Love Me is the most Illinois and Michigan track. Sad and uplifting, with a great chorus.
There’s so much to love about this album with not a dud track. Genuflecting Ghost is one I’ve been returning to of late. It may be just me, but something about this reminds me of former Byrds man Gene Clark.
Shit Talk towards the end is another. Its around eight minutes long, but one of those tracks you don’t want to end, especially as it builds up in the midway point.
When the production becomes more intricate it is never intrusive to the songs here and those backing vocals are a work of art in places, reminiscent of Kate Bush’s tracks at times.
By Joe Lepper