Sufjan Stevens’ New Album ‘Javelin’ Is A Return To Form After An Long, Anomalous Trip

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Back in the aughts, the indie sphere fell in love with Sufjan Stevens for his fusion of jaw-dropping vistas and hyper-intimate dispatches.

Indeed, on seminal works like 2003’s Michigan, 2004’s Seven Swans and 2005’s Illinois, Stevens was just as liable to slug out heart-stopping, pindrop ballads like “Romulus” and “Casimir Pulaski Day” as he was idiosyncratic, chamber-inflected works with titles like “They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!”.

Often, both sides of Sufjan’s vision found themselves in the same compositions. But as of late, this duality has grown in increasingly distinct directions.

Since 2015’s acclaimed, stripped down Carrie & Lowell — which grapples with the loss of his mother, Carrie, and his relationship with her second husband — Stevens has immersed himself in a collaborator-heavy, arthouse-style approach, which has often steered him away from anything resembling the Paste Magazine mix CD era.

On the end of that arc is Javelin, Stevens’ 10th studio album, which will arrive Oct. 6 via Asthmatic Kitty Records.

Billed as a return to “full singer/songwriter mode” for the first time since Carrie & LowellJavelin rides a continuum of helplessness and yearning throughout songs like “Goodbye Evergreen,” “Will Anybody Ever Love Me” and “So You Are Tired” — right up to its closer, a cover of Neil Young’s Harvest cut “There’s a World” stripped of its symphonic opulence.

To mark this return to the platonic ideal of a Stevens album, here’s a quick breakdown of what the GRAMMY nominee has been up to over the past eight years.

He Gave Carrie & Lowell A Live Spin

A little over two years after Carrie & Lowell was released to critical hosannas — Pitchfork declared it his finest hour — Stevens released Carrie & Lowell Live.

Captured at North Charleston Performing Arts Center in South Carolina, the recorded performance consists of further-developed renditions of Carrie & Lowell tunes, as well as oldies like Michigan’s “Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)” and, from 2010’s The Age of Adz, “Vesuvius.”Sufjan Stevens’ New Album 'Javelin'

Also in 2017, Stevens released The Greatest Gift Mixtape — Outtakes, Remixes & Demos From Carrie & Lowell, which provided yet another vantage on his vaunted work.

He Charted The Cosmos — With A Friend Or Three

Stevens has long been close associates with GRAMMY winners the National. Recently, Stevens appeared on their 2023 album First Two Pages of Frankenstein, and National guitarist Bryce Dessner worked on Javelin.

For 2017’s Planetarium, Stevens and Dessner were joined by composer and arranger Nico Nuhly, as well as drummer James McAlister.

While the A.V. Club wasn’t alone in their conclusion that “It generally just plays like a wash of ideas without much of a through-line, despite its galaxy-driven conceit,” other outlets had a different take: Consequence noted Stevens’ “deeply personal, grounded stories” therein.

He Helped Score A Ballet

A soundtrack to the 2017 Justin Peck ballet of the same name, 2019’s The Decalogue is a work of classical piano — composed by Stevens, performed by the Brooklyn-based, Nonesuch-signed Timo Andres.

To AllmusicThe Decalogue “sometimes feels rather incomplete, especially presented in such elemental form,” noting that the score will still draw hardcore fans. “It’s good to hear this unique talent willing to push his own stylistic boundaries.”

He Made A New Age Album With His Stepfather

Yep, that’s Lowell Brams, of Carrie and Lowell fame. Less than two weeks into lockdown, 2020, Stevens and Brams released the well-received Aporia, a synth-driven album assembled from jam sessions between the pair.

“It tells a bigger story of stewardship and mentorship,” Stevens said at the time. “He’s been there since I was five. It’s been a long haul … This record is a synthesis of all of that history.”

He Threw The Kitchen Sink At His Sound

From Aporia’s peaceful, ruminative meanderings, Stevens went whole hog with his next proper studio album, 2020’s The Ascension. Across 80 minutes, Stevens held nothing back, with compositions as massive as their titles: “Ursa Major,” “Death Star,” America.”

While unwieldy and overwhelming (as even positive critical analyses noted) The Ascension felt like a summation of the thematic territory Stevens had trod to that point — God, country, the nature of connection, and just about everything in between.

Stevens Charted Three More Satellite Projects

After The Ascension, Stevens returned to a celestial, instrumental space with 2021’s Convocations — hinged on the mourning of Stevens’ biological father, who passed in 2020.

Length-wise, Convocations renders even The Ascension a dwarf planet: across five volumes, designated “Meditations,” “Lamentations,” “Revelations,” “Celebrations,” and “Incantations,” Stevens takes no shortcuts on his grieving journey.

“I recorded most of this in the dead of winter and now it’s coming out in the spring. And I think that really, it’s a serendipity in a way, that it allows for us to receive this music with hope, you know, for the future,” Stevens said at the time. “And that’s I think that’s something that we all deserve and need more than ever right now.”

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