If 2010’s The Age Of Adz was Sufjan Stevens' bombastic all-action space opera, then Carrie & Lowell is his intimate, stripped-back, soul-baring one-man show. Inspired by the death of his mother, Stevens' seventh album sees the Detroit native pair a daring sonic sparseness with an unrelenting focus on his morbid subject matter.
Stevens pares his neo-folk sound back to its skeleton to an extent not seen since Seven Swans over a decade ago, with precious few orchestral or electronic flourishes, and no drums. At all. Nada. Instead Sufjan and his trusty banjo are backed by a cocktail of hotel room white noise, haunting soundscapes and multi-layered backing vocals.
That ethereal canvas provides the background for a prime batch of plaintive, simple melodies and ruminations and reflections on mortality. Lyrically it's uncompromising, dark and surprisingly direct – mentions of blood, death and ghosts are plastered all over its 11 tracks – but there's a real beauty to Carrie & Lowell that shines through the darkness.