this is where you belong

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One of my favorite artists, Sufjan Stevens, recently released a new album (which I wasted no time in downloading), and it’s got me all kinds of inspired.  If you’re unfamiliar with Stevens, first click this link to my all-time favorite song, and listen along while I give you a bit of background on the man, the myth, the legend…

Stevens may be best known in the ballet community for his collaborations with NYCB’s young choreographic luminary, Justin Peck.  The pair seem to weave their talents together quite well; Peck’s first Stevens piece, Year of the Rabbit (which premiered in 2012 accompanied by the folk-artist’s 2002 album Enjoy Your Rabbit), was an enormous success, skyrocketing him into the choreographic scene as the new “boy wonder”.  Then, inspired by the symphonic instrumentation of much of Stevens’ music, Peck commissioned the indie-pop crossover to create his first original orchestral work for the 2014 NYCB world premiere, Everywhere We Go.  While I have yet to see either ballet, they are high on my bucket list, as I can only imagine what beauty is produced in the synthesis of a multi-faceted symphonious score created by the genius Sufjan Stevens and the corps-heavy, architectural style Justin Peck is now known for.  But!  I digress…

Stevens newest album, Carrie & Lowell, is a dream.  Named for his mother and stepfather, the collection of 11 songs is at both times upsetting and soothing.  This press release describes the content quite well: “life and death, love and loss, and the artist’s struggle to make sense of the beauty and ugliness of love”, however, it fails to shed light on Stevens’ absurd ability to turn these examinations of life’s darker bits into hauntingly beautiful songs.  Anyone who knew me in high school is rolling their eyes right now (I’ve always had an affinity for “sad” music…any fellow Death Cab for Cutie fans?), but I maintain the standpoint that most borderline-emo songs comprise the best lyrics, and as something of a writer, I suppose this is what I am drawn to.  But Stevens’ music feels like a grown up take on melodic melancholy, providing a mature soundtrack to life’s purities and imperfections simultaneously; it is free from trite clichés and the staleness of overdramatized sorrow.  A hint of electronica (usually aptly positioned following the apex of a particularly drowsy track), keeps the collection from being downright depressing, like some of the lyrical geniuses of yesteryear (Death Cab, I’m looking at you).  While there are bleak tracks, yes, Stevens also has a habit of working out his losses and frustrations by the end of a song, turning listeners around into an embracing wash of optimism.  His twists of spirit are touching in their realness; unembellished and free from thick coats of proverbial sugar, these upturns are emotive in their relatibility.  I will leave you with this quote from the man himself, which demonstrates this quality quite well…

“Perhaps we don’t like what we see: our hips, our loss of hair, our shoe size, our dimples, our knuckles too big, our eating habits, our disposition. We have disclosed these things in secret, likes and dislikes, behind doors with locks, our lonely rooms, our messy desks, our empty hearts, our sudden bursts of energy, our sudden bouts of depression. Don’t worry. Put away your mirrors and your beauty magazines and your books on tape. There is someone right here who knows you more than you do, who is making room on the couch, who is fixing a meal, who is putting on your favorite record, who is listening intently to what you have to say, who is standing there with you, face to face, hand to hand, eye to eye, mouth to mouth. There is no space left uncovered. This is where you belong.”

-Sufjan Stevens

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