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Old 03-31-2013, 04:43 AM   #241
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I loved coffee and tv, and liked the rest of the album, but hated tender. Didn't really sound like anything else on it, and irritated me greatly. Still the only blur album I own, because I never really got into the others and wanted to buy/hear them again.
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Old 12-11-2016, 05:31 PM   #242
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Last year, my most listened-to album was Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell, and it has held that distinction this year as well. I came to love it quickly, but now, nearly two years later, I'm convinced that it's an all-timer, probably in my top ten albums ever. What strikes me most about it is its bravery; there are plenty of albums out there that are lyrically and emotionally raw, but none I have ever heard that acknowledge the persistence of a certain type of existential pain as boldly as Sufjan does here. The closest I can think of is Nick Cave's Skeleton Tree, but even there a certain light comes forth at the end that at least hints at healing.

On C&L, there is no such thing - only ruminations on comfort that never materializes and nostalgia that never soothes. In this sense, Blue Bucket of Gold is the perfect closer: a raw plea for companionship that is as intangible and fleeting as the ghostly ambient passage that ends the song. That particular trick - contrasting the main part of the song with an ambient coda - works emotional wonders throughout the album, seeming to mimic the fatigue that comes from efforts to work through depression, which in my experience is incredibly authentic.

Equally impressive is how, despite the harrowing subject matter, nothing is played for pity, nothing over-reaches. On past albums, Sufjan had a tendency to swing for the fences emotionally - see tracks like Flint, Casimir Pulaski Day, or Impossible Soul - but on the tracks from C&L, there is no embellishment to the sentiments being offered. The sparseness of the arrangements gives the entire album a voyeuristic quality, as though you are reading his journals or listening in on songs never meant to leave his room. That intensely personal dynamic justifies the lyrical abstractions, of which there are many in the vein of references to Poseidon, Manelich, and any number of Oregon landmarks, and brings you into the world of his memories in a way that is revealing but not fully comprehensible.

That balance of revelation and mystery is probably intentional: relationships and loss are personal and ultimately not understandable to the outside, so as much as Sufjan or anyone else might want empathy, it really isn't possible. Thus the reason there is no superficially comforting sentiment on the album along the lines of "she's in a better place now," because the grieving have no need for that sort of artifice.

Where I land on the best song of the album has shifted over time, but now I feel solidly that it is All of Me Wants All of You. It is a perfect encapsulation of trying to accept a changing dynamic but ultimately failing, of the difficulty of knowing whether you hold any importance to another person, or of what should be taken personally and what shouldn't. It speaks to the wider ambiguity and impermanence of relationships that we are often told should be unwavering, like family, partners, or close friends, and how the individual internalizes changes in those relationships. As with everything else on the album, there are no easy answers, only open questions. It is a failed attempt at emotional exorcism that is nonetheless beautiful, which is perhaps the best way to summarize the album as a whole.
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