The Music Moment: Sufjan Stevens’ Vulnerable New Album “Javelin”

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Grade: A

Singer and songwriter Sufjan Stevens, famed for the remarkable versatility within his music, is similar to a chameleon with his ability to fluctuate his way through a wide array of musical landscapes. On October 6th, Stevens released his tenth studio album, Javelin, a brief yet articulately beautiful series of ten tracks. Dedicated to his late partner, Evan Richardson, the album indulges in themes of vulnerability prompted by loss of a loved one, experiences with the complexities of love, and the nuances of human existence.

With a farewell as an opening track, Goodbye Evergreen instills the underlying tone of distraughtness for the album as a whole as Steven navigates his sense of self during a suffocating period of grief. The emotional turmoil of the track is showcased in the progression from  a simple bit of piano accompanying Stevens, to a climax of loud distortions and layered voices. 

The second track, A Running Start may remind listeners of the susceptibility of youth. In addition to Stevens’ clever use of child-like imagery such as, “Forgotten tales, a wild beast,” and, “I jump between the trampolines.”, the line, “Don’t go, my lovely pantomime,” stands out the most. It illustrates the plea for somebody to come back to them, the “pantomime” whose performance has entranced the child and reveals their impressionable nature. A similar composure is evident in track three, Will Anybody Ever Love Me? as an upbeat guitar also accompanies lyrics with darker and more solemn meaning, seeing Stevens express hunger for a relationship that is “for good reasons, without grievance.”

Choir-like background vocals follow Stevens’ lead in Genuflecting Ghost, which add to the theme of internal religious conflict displayed throughout the song, this fifth track shedding light on the conflicts between the relationship one has with themselves and their faith. The chorus paints an obscure picture of a disastrous scene, saying that, “Rest assured, empires will fall,” which ultimately depicts how catastrophe occurring prior the fall of the “empire,” or his spiritual identity, could have prompted its decline.

My Little Red Fox seems to be an ode to the all-powerful essence of the universe. Stevens begs for “my love, my queen, my broken dreams,” to salvage him with a somber background melody comparable to the contemporary tone of So You Are Tired, as the track tells an excruciating story of a fading love. 

The title track Javelin (To Have And To Hold) is what shows listeners the connection between a physical javelin and the theme of the entire album. “For the javelin I had not meant to throw right at you, for if it had hit the mark, there’d be blood in the place where you stood,” portrays a metaphor for unintentionally hurting someone and having to deal with the pain that comes with being on the offensive end of these emotional wounds.

The album interestingly closes with a cover of Niel Young’s There’s A World, my personal favorite track of the album because of how distinctive Stevens’ spin on it is. Opening with a peacefully gentle melody, lyrics remind listeners that, “There’s a world you’re living in, no one else has your part,” and that each individual’s experience should be savored throughout the rollercoaster of the human experience. It connects back to the overall theme of the complexities of love embedded throughout the album. 

Javelin displays Stevens’ extraordinary power to extract personal grief—such as the loss of a partner—and to implant the intricate complexities of his struggles throughout a highly diversified yet well-balanced album in terms of musicality and overall flow.

Penelope is a sophomore at M-A, and this is her first year in journalism. She is interested in writing music reviews as well as incorporating unique student perspectives into her stories. In her free time, you can find her practicing tennis, watercolor painting, or knotting away at her growing collection of friendship bracelets.

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