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Carrie & Lowell offers Sufjan Stevens at his most vulnerable. Musically bare compared to 2010’s Age of Adz, or even the more dynamic pieces on Illinoise or Michigan, his delicate vocals are left unguarded. These candid, haunting lyrics rest on arrangements built around lightly picked guitars and ukulele.

Sufjan has been open about the personal nature of this album, a response to the recent death of his mother, Carrie. Largely absent from his life since childhood because of her struggle with mental illness, Sufjan grieves Carrie’s death and life.

Sufjan continues to stretch the conceptions of both Christian and secular audiences regarding Christian art. Many listeners will be challenged by either his use of light profanity or his sincere cries to God.

Already hailed by some as his greatest album, it is probably his most accessible, engaging the human universals of loss and grief, hope and peace. (Asthmatic Kitty Records)

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