ACROSS THE BORDER
Where the banned are
Selected by @Scott Peterson.
I love this record. All I can say about it is that it helped me through many tough feelings.
I listened to this 4 or 5 times over in one go. Really wanted to get inside it, but just didn’t happen for me. Melodically it initially appealed but quickly became soporific to these ears, so I then focussed on it lyrically. Still drew a blank - just couldn’t connect. Maybe it’s me!
Get the impression this isn’t necessarily a typical SJ record, if such a thing exists. Worth trying something else from his back-catalogue?
Honestly, I'm not sure the other stuff would appeal any more than this, but you could try Illinois—as mentioned, my perhaps personal favorite is "John Wayne Gacy," odd as that seems, but the entire album is wonderful.
I listen to each album and comment if I have something I believe is worth sharing.
I very often have just interesting, strange also, out-of-the-blue thoughts, and if I don't post immediately, I either forget or don't find them valuable later...
So... We are close, and I can share this without feeling uncomfortable.
I started listening to this album on a Thursday evening, while I was going through severe premenstrual syndrome. I'm almost 48 and hormones are playing havoc with me lately... Those days of the month, I'm either too emotional, mostly sad, closest to feeling depressed, I guess. Or angry, snarky, and bitchy as hell...
I put the album on in my car, late in the afternoon after a stressful day at work, I was tired, hungry, plus in the above-mentioned mental state.
It's the first album since I can recall that I didn't even bother listening to the lyrics, or if I did I can't remember anything.
I liked the calming voice and the music was so pacifying, this album felt like a sedative injected into my system.
I sat in the car in front of the supermarket and felt like trapped in a safe musical cocoon.
I have to listen again, in my normal state, and damn, I have to listen to the lyrics.
There have been some selections for this Album Club that I listened to once (in one instance even less), and didn't bother writing about them. And now I realize how unfair that might have been with some of them. First time through Carrie & Lowell I heard good melodies, some better than others The vocals were alright, a little weak, and there was largely a sameness to the arrangements. Scott described the lyrics as straightforward, leading to one of those occasional moments when I question my intellect. I take things very literally. The last few sentences you just read? They're straightforward. There are songs on this album that I can't decipher. Not just lines, whole songs. It was frustrating.
Anyway, I put it on again tonight, and the music kicked in immediately. From the very first note, it all felt as familiar as albums I've listened to for years. This thing is beautiful. As for the lyrics, the best you can expect from someone like me is that I find them evocative, and that's becoming the case here. Not all of them, not nearly, not yet, but it'll be worth going back again and again, I think. All it took was a second listen. I don't bother letting things sink in through repeat listening like I did when I was younger. I should change that.
Great post. I wrote in my earlier post that the songs were both inviting and off-putting. They become more the former and less the latter for me with repeated listening. I'm still listening to this one.
As to a few of your opening remarks, I don't feel any of us is obligated to listen and remark on every selection. I would hope no one would take it personal or gauge others' interactions, because some albums will not appeal to some people and a person may comment on some selections more than others. We also aren't limited to commenting on an album only until the next selection is made. It's all about fun, checking out some music together, feeling whatever we feel.
When I used to sit in a room with friends and listen to music collectively, I never had a problem saying "this one ain't for me" and stepping outside for a while.
We're only here for music and fun. And getting stoned. I'm here for that, too.
I'm not overly familiar with Sufjan Stevens, but I do have all his records and have listened to them all periodically, especially around their releases. This one is a nice antidote musically to the apocalyptic music I'm listening to hours on end while I write, and I'm enjoying toking and getting into the album's emotional core. I don't know what it is yet, but the songs are both inviting and slightly off-putting at the same time.
The first time I read his name, I googled him because I thought maybe he was Cat Stevens' son.
So. Sufjan Stevens. For those who don't know:
Sufjan Stevens (/ˈsuːfjɑːn/ SOOF-yahn; born July 1, 1975) is an American singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. He has released nine solo studio albums and multiple collaborative albums with other artists. Stevens has received Grammy and Academy Award nominations.
His debut album, A Sun Came, was released in 2000 on the Asthmatic Kitty label, which he co-founded with his stepfather. He received wide recognition for his 2005 album Illinois, which hit number one on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart, and for the single "Chicago" from that album. Stevens later contributed to the soundtrack of the 2017 film Call Me by Your Name. He received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song and a Grammy nomination for Best Song Written for Visual Media for the soundtrack's lead single, "Mystery of Love".
Stevens has released albums of varying styles, from the electronica of Enjoy Your Rabbit and the lo-fi folk of Seven Swans to the symphonic instrumentation of Illinois and Christmas-themed Songs for Christmas. He employs various instruments, often playing many of them himself on the same recording. Stevens' music is also known for exploring various themes, particularly religion and spirituality. Stevens' ninth and latest studio album, Convocations, was released in 2021.
All that out of the way...
I first became aware of Stevens due to his Fifty States Project, an ambitious undertaking during which he'd write and record one album for each state. He got two and a half states in and abandoned it, saying he'd never really meant it, that it was all just an attempt to get attention. Well, mission accomplished. But the thing is, the first two albums he did—Michigan and Illinois—are pretty fucking brilliant. I mean, he's got a song on there about serial killer John Wayne Gacy...and it's crazy moving, making it crystal clear Gacy was a monster, yet finding a connection with this fellow human. It's impossible, and yet there it is.
Which brings us to Carrie & Lowell.
Carrie & Lowell is the seventh studio album by American musician Sufjan Stevens. It was released on March 31, 2015, by Asthmatic Kitty.
Unlike Stevens' previous album, the electronic The Age of Adz (2010), Carrie & Lowell features sparse instrumentation, with critics noting it as reminiscent of the performer's earlier indie folk-inspired material. Lyrically, the album sees him explore the fallout from the 2012 death of his mother Carrie, and the relationship between Stevens and Carrie’s second husband Lowell Brams, who helped Stevens found Asthmatic Kitty (his record label).
I am drawn to the kind of often quiet, melancholy music Stevens makes: Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, etc. (Although Stevens has also been known to use very large ensembles.) But this particular album, about the death of his mother and his relationship with his stepfather, simply hit like a ton of bricks.
Part of its power, for me, comes from how instantly accessible his melodies are, since that's my main focus when it comes to music. Next up are the lyrics, which are easy to understand, aurally, but also emotionally. And yet the quality of his writing is stellar—the fact that his words are straightforward and yet so lyrical puts him up in some rarefied air.
The album's focus on how to deal with the death of a loved one, especially if the relationship was a complicated one is, I think, something almost everyone on here has either had to deal with themselves, or will (sadly) be in the not too distant future, for most of us.
Some of you are, I suspect, going to find this boring or actively hate it. Some might like it in small doses, but not an entire album. I, personally, find this album simultaneously soothing and disturbing, and not one I can turn to too often, nor one I can stay away from for long.