The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Review | Sufjan Stevensʼ album ʼJavelinʼ is intimate, masterfully crafted

Album+cover+art+of+Sufjan+Stevens+2023+fall+album+Javelin+released+on+Friday.
Photo Courtesy of Genius
Album cover art of Sufjan Stevens’ 2023 fall album “Javelin” released on Friday.

Sufjan Stevens is not new to making music. Over the past two decades Stevens has released 10 full-length studio albums, along with collaborative albums, extended plays and a mixtape. 

In each album he somehow manages to create a candid narrative, weaving intimate stories with soaring harmonies, grandiose orchestral sounds and fervent lyricism — none more textured than 2015ʼs autobiographical album “Carrie & Lowell.” 

Eight albums after “Carrie & Lowell,” we might think that we’ve heard all we have to hear from Stevens — but his newest studio album “Javelin” introduces us to the artist once more, giving us the opportunity to hear him again in a new way. 

“Javelin” acts as Stevens’ most intimate form of a confession, and according to Pitchfork is dedicated to his late partner Evans Richardson IV, who died in April at the age of 43. Each song is an acknowledgment of desire, longing and suffering, woven carefully between a haunting production and masterful lyrics, giving way to a new kind of narrative. 

“This album is dedicated to the light of my life, my beloved partner and best friend Evans Richardson, who passed away in April,” Stevens shared on Instagram.

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    “He was an absolute gem of a person, full of life, love, laughter, curiosity, integrity, and joy. He was one of those rare and beautiful ones you find only once in a lifetime—precious, impeccable, and absolutely exceptional in every way,” Stevens said.

    The album starts with “Goodbye Evergreen,” an expansive display of instrumentation that deftly navigates the album’s main theme of love and its expanding definition. 

    “Goodbye Evergreen/ you know I love you,” Stevens sings as his voice unfurls gently over the mellow sound of the piano. “But everything heaven sent/ must burn out in the end.” 

    The song starts out delicately, before blossoming into a cinematic production of instrumentation and background vocals — a common theme of the album, and an aspect that adds a sense of depth. 

    At three minutes and 35 seconds in length, “Goodbye Evergreen” sets the tone for the album: a fathomless display of lyricism and sprawling instrumentation, and a heart-rendering confession of grief. 

    “A Running Start,” the second of 10 tracks on the album, is a gentle song that delicately weaves together the concept of love and heartache. It’s tender and intimate, with Stevens’ voice trembling over the gentle pluck of the guitar and the hum of the chorus in the background. 

    On the surface, “A Running Start” is the most straightforward of love songs, but hidden underneath is a plea for intimacy and an ignored desire for deeper connection with a lover. 

    “I know the time has come to ask you for a kiss/ don’t go, my lovely pantomime, receive of me my only wish,” Steven sings, his unforgiving voice unfurling over the unassuming pluck of the guitar. 

    His voice holds a gritty undertone hidden under a feathery surface, creating a beautiful but heart-wrenching lullaby.

    While the lyrics in track seven, “So You Are Tired,” are still hauntingly beautiful as always, the standout of this song is the instrumentation, a cinematic whirlwind of sounds, beginning with the apprehensive keying of the piano. 

    “I was the man still in love with you when I already knew it was done,” Steven croons, his weathered voice effortlessly intertwining with the sound of the piano. The instrumentation continues Stevensʼ story long after the lyrics come to an end, almost seeming to create a story of its own. 

    While the instrumentation is remarkable in each song, the beauty of the album lies within the lyrics. The main example of this lies in track eight, “Javelin (To Have And To Hold).” 

    There’s no dramatic production, no progression into a dazzling display of orchestral whispers and background vocals, only Stevens’ voice ruminating over the familiar strum of a guitar.

    “It’s a terrible thought/ to have and to hold,” Stevens sings over acoustic arpeggios and gentle background vocals. It’s textured and it’s seamless, creating a type of emotional depth that only Stevens is capable of.

    Something about “Javelin” is inescapable, a sentiment that Steven makes sure cannot be easily forgotten. Each song is an intimate look into Stevens’ mind, an emotional confession sung carefully over the plaintive sound of the piano, mellow guitar melodies and soaring background vocals. 

    Even when the album comes to its gentle conclusion in “There’s A World,” the listener is left with the unavoidable feeling of longing and heartache — a distillation of Stevens’ personal experiences that becomes all too real. 

     

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