Sufjan Stevens’ Javelin Review: A Compelling Return to Singer-Songwriter Brilliance

Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens, the enigmatic and prolific artist, has made a notable return to his singer-songwriter roots with his tenth studio album, Javelin. This marks his first foray into the realm of a “solo album of songs” since his critically acclaimed 2015 masterpiece, Carrie & Lowell. Javelin steers away from his recent experimental ventures and brings back the lyrical richness and lush indie-folk sounds reminiscent of his earlier works, such as Carrie & Lowell and Seven Swans from 2004.

The album’s release follows Stevens’ recent diagnosis of the rare autoimmune disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome. In a candid social media post, he revealed the startling experience of waking up one morning unable to walk, leading to a series of hospital tests and treatments. Currently undergoing physical therapy to regain his mobility, Stevens explained that this ordeal is one of the reasons he couldn’t actively participate in the promotion and press activities leading up to the release of Javelin.

Sufjan Stevens - Javelin

Javelin resides in a musical world that has become synonymous with Stevens’ genre-spanning career spanning over 25 years. It’s a realm characterized by soaring melodies intertwined with Stevens’ distinctive vocals, wrapped in intricate and folky instrumentals. However, the album also incorporates influences from various stages of Stevens’ expansive musical journey. The tracks feature a revolving door of supporting vocalists, including Adrienne Maree Brown, Hannah Cohen, Pauline Delassus, Megan Lui, and Nedelle Torrisi, all of whom contribute harmonies, enriching the overall songwriting.

The album kicks off with the soaring opener, “Goodbye Evergreen,” initially a soft piano-led tune that later erupts with the sparkling energy reminiscent of his 2010 album, The Age of Adz. While the avant-garde elements are present, they are balanced by cinematic melodies. Stevens and a chorus of voices declare, “Goodbye, Evergreen/You know I love you,” adding depth to the song’s emotional resonance.

Notable quieter, intimate moments also shine throughout the album. “Genuflecting Ghost” stands out as a subdued gem, with vocals and woodwind arrangements reminiscent of his chamber-pop-infused 2005 masterpiece, “Illinois.” “Shit Talk,” featuring The National‘s Bryce Dessner on guitar, exudes subtle pop beauty, sharing similarities with The National’s signature style.

So You Are Tired” showcases some of Stevens’ most poignant songwriting. Reflecting on a fractured relationship and the regretful realization of what went wrong, Stevens’ lyrics are contemplative: “Was it something I said or some kind of joke?” The song culminates in an emotional gut punch with the admission, “I was the man still in love with you/When I already knew it was done.

What makes Sufjan Stevens’ music remarkable is its ability to convey profound emotions with ease and vulnerability. Heartache and pain are juxtaposed with a choir of voices and whimsical instrumentals, infusing an element of hope. Javelin marks a triumphant return to the “full singer-songwriter” mode for Stevens. By blending elements from various phases of his career and pairing them with candid and intimate lyricism, Javelin presents a fresh perspective from this cult hero.