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Published April 19, 2024

Review: “Javelin” by Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan’s new project is beautifully constructed yet feels generic.
The album is dedicated to Stevens friend who died earlier this year.
Image by Morgan La Casse
The album is dedicated to Stevens’ friend who died earlier this year.

Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens released his newest album, “Javelin,” last Friday mixing his typical folk sound with orchestral harmonies and ambitious compositions.

The album was dedicated in an Instagram post to his “beloved partner and best friend Evans Richardson” who passed earlier this year in April. Sufjan has a trend of releasing music following the deaths of people close to him, with “Convocations” and “Carrie and Lowell” being released after the passing of his father and mother, respectively.

Sufjan also revealed last month he is in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition that causes weakness and paralysis in the legs and feet due to the immune system attacking the peripheral nervous system.

The first song on the album, “Goodbye Evergreen” is a farewell to his late partner. It begins as a stripped-down piano ballad that eventually explodes into a bombastic arrangement that could be seen on his 2010 album, “Age of Adz.”

The second song “A Running Start” is more in the vein of his 2005 album, “Illinois,” with flutes blended over finger-picked acoustic guitar chords, among wistful, poetic lyrics.

The third song, and second single from the album “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” mixes these styles, with both a fingerpicked four-chord progression that builds to include a choir and relaxed electronic percussion behind it.

Throughout the album, Sufjan does not take any risks. He does not venture far from the formula he has perfected over his decades as a songwriter. It starts quietly with plaintive lyrics, then builds to a more dramatic composition.

Many songs on the album follow a structure of beginning with a simple instrument, such as a piano or acoustic guitar. Then throughout the song, a choir joins in along with orchestral instruments to accompany.

The lyrics seem to follow a theme of religion, along with love and yearning. He often uses metaphors for nature and spirits to describe how he feels towards someone close to him.

“So You Are Tired” is the lead single from the album, with lyrics describing someone Sufjan is in love with, getting tired of him. The piano, guitar and vocal harmonies all blend in a way that is pleasing to the ear.

“Sufjan doesn’t talk much about the recording and writing process,” Label Director at Asthmatic Kitty Records, John Beeler said.

Every sound on the album was recorded at Sufjan’s home in New York.

While Sufjan is not someone who stays long in the public eye, he airs out his vulnerabilities in his lyrics. He is very open about his hopes and also his regrets.

The title track, “Javelin (To Have And To Hold),” is a stripped-down melancholic song where Sufjan dwells on past mistakes now that his partner is gone.

“It’s a terrible thought to have and hold,” he sings softly.

One stand-out song is “Shit Talk”. It is an eight-and-a-half-minute song that builds and decays over time, akin to songs from his EP “All Delighted People.” Bryce Dressner, guitarist for the National, plays guitar on this track.

The last song on the album is a cover of the Neil Young song “There’s A World,” rewritten in a style more fitting and cohesive to the rest of the album.

Javelin is a palatable listen if you are a Sufjan Stevens fan looking for his classic sound. It is a blend of all of his past albums into a midpoint. There is not much experimentation, and he doesn’t deviate from the norm, but it is still a wonderfully composed album that deals with themes of love and loss.

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