Sufjan once again takes his personal turmoil, grief, and loss and turns it into something completely and utterly breathtaking. Combining moments of tenderness with moments of electronic catharsis, Javelin's sonic mood swings are very much welcome, while also being executed flawlessly.
Favorite track: Genuflecting Ghost.
So you are tired of us
So rest your head
Turning back fourteen years
Of what I did and said
So you are breathing disaster
I did what I was told
But I was a man born invisible
Was it something I said
Or some kind of joke?
So you are tired as the sun
Are you with or without a friend?
Bring me back everything
Caught in your shield
Let everything else descend
So you are seething with laughter
Was it really all just a joke?
I was a man indivisible
When everything else was broke
So you are tired of even my kiss
So go back to your den
Throwing out everything
Left in your field
When there was nothing
Left to defend
So you are dreaming of after
Was it really all just for fun?
I was the man still in love with you
When I already knew it was done
So you are tired of me
So rest your head
Turning back all that
We had in our life
While I return to death
Over the course of his career, Sufjan Stevens has blurred distinctions between the major and the minor, between the details that color our existence and the big events that frame our lives. He has turned historical footnotes of States into kaleidoscopic pop, and rendered the immeasurable grief of loss with intimacy and grace.
His new album 'Javelin'—Sufjan’s first solo album of songs since 2020’s The Ascension and his first in full solo singer-songwriter mode since 2015’s Carrie & Lowell—bridges all these approaches. Sufjan uses the quietness of a solitary confession to ask universal questions in songs we can share communally.
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 more like a self-portrait, detailed yet plain. Yet whether listened to individually or as an album, these 10 songs become something much bigger, the entire experience of Sufjan’s 25-year career expressed in four-minute bursts. Choral, orchestral, and electric wonder: it all shows in 'Javelin', all of it animating these songs as full spectacles. In each song we hear the vulnerability and candor of quiet starts, then Sufjan raising the stakes.
At times, 'Javelin' has the feel of a big team album production—but it is decidedly not: almost every sound here is the result of Sufjan at home, building by himself what sometimes feels like a testament to classic ’70s Los Angeles studio recording sessions. 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.”
And speaking of the world: there is a permeable sense of world-building imbued in every corner of 'Javelin', especially in 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, Sufjan builds order from seeming chaos and vice versa. And toward the middle of it all are 10 short essays by Sufjan, another window into the process that informed 'Javelin'.
On 'Javelin', Sufjan returns as we may know him best, offering vulnerable reflections on love and relationships, so that in listening we may see ourselves more fully.
released October 6, 2023
adrienne maree brown sings on “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?“ “Everything That Rises,“ “Genuflecting Ghost,“ “My Red Little Fox,“ “So You Are Tired,“ and “Javelin (To Have And To Hold).“
Nedelle Torrisi sings on “A Running Start.“
Pauline Delassus sings on “Shit Talk.“
Bryce Dessner plays acoustic and electric guitars on “Shit Talk.“
Megan Lui and Hannah Cohen sing on “Goodbye Evergreen,“ "A Running Start," “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?“ “Everything That Rises,“ “My Red Little Fox,“ “So You Are Tired“ “Javelin (To Have And To Hold),“ “Shit Talk,“ and “There’s A World.“
Sufjan Stevens performs everything else.
This album was recorded, engineered, arranged, produced and mixed by Sufjan Stevens.
Mastered by Heba Kadry, NYC.
Vinyl mastering by Josh Bonati.
All original artwork, collage, painting, photography, typography, layout and design by Sufjan Stevens.
Thanks to: Adrienne, Nedelle, Pauline, Megan, Hannah, Bryce, Evans, Lisa, Lowell, John, Tom, Robert, Mark, Jane, Nick, Stephanie, Heba, Josh, Neil Young and Jesus.