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Diane

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

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Really pretty album on the first listen.

 

The oddball lyrical usage of "masturbate" I found really darn distracting though, maybe I'll get used to it — or at least expect it next time.

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The oddball lyrical usage of "masturbate" I found really darn distracting though, maybe I'll get used to it — or at least expect it next time.

 

Funny story: I always play music before my classes--mood-setting as well as a way to avoid awkward staring-at-students--and I decided that today was a good day to play some Sufjan. I had listened through the album once and I thought I knew--geographically, not by title--which songs to avoid. So I pick a song--I start it playing--and there's the masturbation line playing over the class loudspeakers.

 

I, um, didn't let on that I'd heard it, and I'm not sure the kids did. But it was...unexpected.

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Huh. I've heard that word become so common in rock lyrics the last few years that it doesn't surprise me anymore, so I don't even remember hearing it on my first listen to this record. St. Vincent, anyone?

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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What's funny is that, once upon a time, wasn't that word one of the taboos that led to the development of the Parental Advisory sticker, e.g. in "Darling Nikki?"


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Huh. I've heard that word become so common in rock lyrics the last few years that it doesn't surprise me anymore, so I don't even remember hearing it on my first listen to this record. St. Vincent, anyone?

 

The St. Vincent line came immediately into my mind as well. 

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The oddball lyrical usage of "masturbate" I found really darn distracting though, maybe I'll get used to it — or at least expect it next time.

 

Funny story: I always play music before my classes--mood-setting as well as a way to avoid awkward staring-at-students--and I decided that today was a good day to play some Sufjan. I had listened through the album once and I thought I knew--geographically, not by title--which songs to avoid. So I pick a song--I start it playing--and there's the masturbation line playing over the class loudspeakers.

 

I, um, didn't let on that I'd heard it, and I'm not sure the kids did. But it was...unexpected.

 

 

I guess depending on the age, I'm not sure how concerned I would be if they heard it. College aged, well then — they may find that it funny, or even highschoolers.

 

Listened a few times more and I think the edge of that word has worn down some. I have to admit that I kind of wish that it wasn't there; it's not a particularly pretty word to begin with, and it's just distracting and one of those personal things that should remain personal. But I get 'artistry' and all of that. Knowing what I do about Sufjan and how aware he seems about people being into his music, it had to be a pretty deliberate thing to include wording like that. I'd be curious to know, in his own words, his reasoning for including a line like that given that a lot of devoutly religious people are pretty big fans of his work. (The type of devout that get offended over that type of thing, I mean.)

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I admit to being jarred at first, but it feels of a piece with the rest of the record, which is pretty aggressively devoted to examining thoughts, feelings, and actions (some of which he is clearly not proud of -- he calls his behavior "unexcusable" in the Pitchfork interview) in the wake of grief and depression, regardless of how uncomfortably personal that gets. After a few more listens it totally worked for me. And as somebody suggested on Twitter, I think it was, can you think of a more succinct summation of this generation's sexual dysfunction?

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From an interview with Dave Eggers in The Guardian:

 

 

“I was recording songs as a means of grieving, making sense of it,” he says. “But the writing and recording wasn’t the salve I expected. I fell deeper and deeper into doubt and misery. It was a year of real darkness. In the past my work had a real reciprocity of resources – I would put something in and get something from it. But not this time.” That he was able to make an album of such coherence and delicacy is a significant feat, given the deeply complicated relationship he had with Carrie.

 

She married young, and had four children in rapid succession. Her husband, Sufjan’s father, was a member of a religious group called Subud. (In the film from their wedding night, his head was shaved in accordance with Subud custom.) Carrie and Rasjid were married for seven years, then, in 1976, when Stevens was one year old and his siblings were all under 10, Carrie left the family, with no promise of returning or remaining in contact. His father eventually remarried, and the family moved around Michigan, and in and out of Subud and other faiths and allegiances, throughout Stevens’s childhood. There was never enough money to go around, and his father became the strict patriarch of a scattered brood. “We were treated like tenants,” Stevens says. “It was a familial conglomerate mess.”

 

Eventually Carrie remarried, too – to a man Lowell Brams, and it was through Lowell, because of Lowell, that Carrie rekindled a strained, desultory relationship with her children. Lowell was determined to arrange visits and phone calls, and he took a special interest in Sufjan. There was no music in the home Stevens shared with his father and stepmom – no records, no stereo – but Lowell, an amateur musician and avid record collector, introduced Stevens to Leonard Cohen, Frank Zappa, Judee Sill, Nick Drake, The Wipers and Mike Oldfield. He visited Stevens throughout his childhood and through high school, sending him mix tapes, and when Stevens formed his own bands at Hope College, Lowell would be in the audience, offering uncritical and unequivocal support.


It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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Incidentally, I have been listening nonstop to "Advice From Paradise", the lovely, breezy breakup album by Nedelle Torrisi, who appears on this album and has been in Sufjan's cheerleading squad/backing band on a couple tours.  Somewhere between Control-era Janet Jackson and Laura Nyro, between Spandau Ballet and Ronnie Spector sonically, but sort of like a Neko Case record, in that it really blossoms into technicolor and shows its full power on about the fifth listen when you can get your head around how the song structures twist and turn. This is music for people like me who love pop music for its ability to tap pure, primary color emotions, but also like to be surprised.

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Incidentally, I have been listening nonstop to "Advice From Paradise", the lovely, breezy breakup album by Nedelle Torrisi, who appears on this album and has been in Sufjan's cheerleading squad/backing band on a couple tours.  Somewhere between Control-era Janet Jackson and Laura Nyro, between Spandau Ballet and Ronnie Spector sonically, but sort of like a Neko Case record, in that it really blossoms into technicolor and shows its full power on about the fifth listen when you can get your head around how the song structures twist and turn. This is music for people like me who love pop music for its ability to tap pure, primary color emotions, but also like to be surprised.

 

Thanks! Queuing it up.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I'm not really a Sufjan fan, but I love this album. I have always felt his arrangements and voicings were clever and brilliant in spots (Illinoise) but I rarely hear much emotion in his songs, even when they are undeniably pretty. I've listened to this new one about a half dozen times in its entirety and I hear and feel something more immediate in these recordings. Perhaps it's the restraint in the compositions/arrangements (these really aren't minimalist at all, as I've read some comment, elsewhere), but the whole thing really strikes a nerve with me.

 

Are we really having a discussion about his prosaic use of the word (gasp)"Masturbate", as if it was somehow morally repugnant or shocking?  In context it's not even a terribly intimate disclosure, really-- which i think is his point.      

Edited by Greg P

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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I keep thinking this has been posted elsewhere on the board, but I'm not seeing it, so ...

 

Press Play is streaming Stranger Cat's "In the Wilderness":

 

Can't get enough Sufjan Stevens? Many of us here at The Times have his latest album, "Carrie & Lowell," on repeat, but if you're looking for something even newer, try this debut project from one of his freqeunt collaborators. Stranger Cat is made up of producer Sven Britt and Cat Martino, who's worked with Mr. Stevens, Sharon Van Etten, and the Shins. Mr. Stevens appears here too, on the closer "I Promise," and the rest of the album deals in heartbreak and muddy electronics.

 

I struggle with electronic elements in music but have recently -- finally -- gotten on board with more contemporary production elements (mostly pop, but here as well). I've just finished my first listen to "In the Wilderness," and while I'm confident it's not going to be the keeper that "Carrie and Lowell" is, it's worth a listen, maybe several.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I'm staring at a newly obtained copy of this album on vinyl, thanks to the generosity of Mark DiPietro. 

 

I'd listen to the album this evening, but the Caps are winning their playoff game by the unheard of tally of 5-1 in the third period, and I can't tear myself away at the moment. Soon, though. Soon.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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The Atlantic: Sufjan Stevens, Sovereign of Sorrow

 

Seeing Stevens live is like upping the contrast in a photo. Carrie & Lowell sounds much the same throughout—it's mostly acoustic, mostly percussion-free, and definitely not a jam—but in concert there are higher highs and lower lows and a wider array of sounds. The sex-during-grief chronicle "All of Me Wants All of You" became a trip-hop slow dance, with Stevens shashaying behind the microphone. "Fourth of July" gained a full-band arrangement about as chipper as anything on 2005's Come on Feel the Illinoise, highlighting the fact that the song features words of encouragement from his mom rather than the fact that she's portrayed on her deathbed. As recorded, the bridge for "Should Have Known Better" sneak in series of happy lyrical images as the music barely changes; on stage, though, the drums kicked in and the catharsis was unmissable.

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Saw him at the Orpheum last night. Amazing show, as usual. "All of Me Wants All of You is an R&B slow-jam. "Blue Bucket of Gold" ends with 5-10 minutes of ambient noise. They play the entire record, arranged for full band. Dawn Landes (who's often toured with Hem) on BGVs. A sermon about death in the middle of the show. Beautiful.

Edited by Joel

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Having only recently got the album I have to say after a few listens it is one of his best. Now I enjoyed the venturing into sounds of The Age of Adz. But this album is something else. A slow burner, a deep album, one that touches within. It is vulnerable, sad and yet hopeful. A songwriter at the top of his game. A singer at the depth of his emotions. It is beautiful and yet haunting. A contender for album of the year so far.


If the world was my oyster I would never taste anything!!!

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