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Over the course of his career, Sufjan Stevens
has blurred distinctions between the major and the minor, between the little details that color our existence and the momentous events that frame our lives. He has turned the historical footnotes of states into kaleidoscopic and riotous pop, and rendered the immeasurable grief of loss with intimacy and delicacy. His new album Javelin
—Stevens’ first solo album of songs since 2020’s The Ascension
and his first in full singer-songwriter mode since 2015’s Carrie & Lowell
—bridges all these approaches like never before. Stevens uses the quietness of a solitary confession to ask universal questions in songs we can share communally.
Each track on Javelin
starts intimately: the trickle of an acoustic guitar, the patter of a lidded piano, and the cascade of a coruscant arpeggio. And then, of course, there is that disarming voice, the throughline in one of the most eclectic catalogs of any songwriter this century—soft but strong, as if the very scenes of hurt and hope it is about to share have only galvanized it through the decades.
Where The Ascension
, lauded by The New York Times as “a cry of despair and prayer for redemption,” used ornate but urgent electronics to square up to its moment, Javelin begins like a self-portrait, detailed yet plain. This is Stevens at his most intimate, calling back to Seven Swans
or Carrie & Lowell
and then calling you close to share in its internal reckoning.
Whether listened to individually or as an album, these 10 songs become something much bigger, the entire experience of Stevens’ 25-year career brought to bear in four-minute bursts. Choral, orchestral, and electric wonder: it all shows in Javelin, animating these little pictures as full spectacles. Stevens sees the vulnerability and candor of those quiet starts, then raises the stakes for himself. He flings these feelings against the sky and pins himself with them there—to be judged, to be lost, to be loved.Javelin
pairs musical sweep with emotional breadth, an entire lifetime of feeling woven into 42-minutes. At times, it has the feel of a big team album production—but it is decidedly not: almost every sound here is the result of Stevens at home, building by himself what sometimes feels like a testament to ’70s Los Angeles studio opulence. There are indispensable contributions from a close circle of friends; the harmonies of five singers who afford Javelin
so much frisson: adrienne maree brown, Hannah Cohen, Pauline Delassus, Megan Lui, and Nedelle Torrisi
. Bryce Dessner
plays acoustic and electric guitar on “Shit Talk.” And, of course, Neil Young
wrote the tender and mystic closer, “There’s a World.”
Given the way Stevens projects his most personal notions against the horizon here, it is fitting that he does the heavy lifting of getting them there, almost alone. This sense of world-building permeates every corner of Javelin
, especially the 48-page book of art and essays that accompanies the album. With a series of meticulous collages, cut-up catalog fantasies, puff-paint word clouds, and iterative color fields, Stevens builds order from seeming chaos and vice versa. Toward the middle of it all, 10 short essays by Stevens—alternately funny, tragic, poignant, obtuse, and specific—offer little glimpses into loves and losses that have presumably shaped him and, in turn, these songs. On Javelin
, Stevens, as you may know him best, returns: offering gorgeous if pained little glimpses of himself, so that we may see ourselves more fully.