Image Courtesy of The Guardian
By Dean Robbins
Javelin is not only filled with all of the emotional power of those experiences, but also some of his finest compositions in years.
It has been a tough year for folktronica singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Shortly before the release of his tenth studio album Javelin, Stevens became paralyzed due to the rare autoimmune Guillain-Barre syndrome. Then, after the release of the album, the Oscar-nominated multi-instrumentalist announced it was a tribute to his late partner who died earlier this year.
The album’s opener “Goodbye Evergreen” is a heart wrenching tribute to a lost lover. The song fuses together many of Stevens’ classic elements: whispery Carrie and Lowell-esque pained intimate lyricism, choral backing, and electronica. Listeners become more emotional the longer you listen to the song. The album’s second track “A Running Start” has a strong hook and usage of the aforementioned choral backing.
The fourth song is a tribute to Catholic writers Teilhard de Chardin and Flannery O’Connor, with the title “Everything That Rises,” referencing the title of the authors’ books Everything That Rises Must Converge. Sufjan’s vocals are reminiscent of the famous theme from The Neverending Story (1984). It is also one of the most explicitly Christian tracks on the album with lines like “Jesus lift me up to a higher plane.”
The title track “Javelin (To Have and To Hold)” is as painful as the rest of the album, with “It’s a terrible thought to have and to hold,” as the refrain.
Sufjan has made quite a few detours in the past few years from the ambient album Aporia with his stepfather Lowell Brams, to a composition for a ballet called Reflections, to his wonderful movie-centric collaborative album A Beginner’s Mind with singer Angelo De Augustine. Javelin is the work of an absolute master who has perfected his craft in many areas from the lyrics to composition.