Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens is perhaps best known for his mainstream indie songs such as “Mystery of Love” featured in Call Me By Your Name, a gay romance film set in the Italian countryside. Think of a palette inspired by shades of yellow and blue, a summer spent by the rivera and the first flutterings of young love. Stevens’ lyricism will flawlessly intermingle with these visuals.
Written as an ode to his late lover, his most recent album, Javelin, released Oct. 6, is a masterpiece that reflects both Stevens’ eclectic body of work and his Christian identity. With songs navigating grief, queerness, devotion and art, the album’s poeticism is a wonderful nudge towards the tender intimacy of his 14-year relationship with Evans Richardson, who passed away in April.
In Javelin, Stevens retraces his steps to his seventh studio album, Carrie & Lowell, in more ways than one. Thematically, he writes at the intersection of grief and faith, of life and death and of love and loss, as he did in Carrie & Lowell following his mother’s passing in 2012.
Stylistically, Javelin echoes with undertones from his former album. His gentle vocals performed along with intricate piano sections in “There’s a World” are reminiscent of Carrie & Lowell’s “Death with Dignity”. Both songs reflect after death and look towards God for answers, thereby expressing mixed feelings of hope and despair that are calmed by the soothing quality of Stevens’ music.
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Stevens’ vocals are accompanied by a chorus in several tracks, granting them a hymn-like ethereal quality. “Genuflecting Ghost” in particular benefits from this approach as it ponders upon concepts of heaven, love and catastrophe in the context of his desire for Richardson to rise again and “show [him] paradise”. His whispery inflection in parts of “So You Are Tired”, combined with the support of the choir, evokes a dreamy characteristic in his music. With the caress of these voices, you will be gently lulled into listening to these tracks on repeat.
Arguably, “My Red Little Fox” is one of the most heartbreaking tracks in the album. It is the closest to a conventional love song out of the 10 Javelin tracks, addressing Richardson directly. When Stevens asks, “Now, I sing it, won’t you / Kiss me like the wind / That flows within your veins,” his devoted listeners know the finality of death defeats the answer.
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In imbuing lyricism with unshakeable authenticity, the album’s longest track at eight and a half minutes, “Shit Talk”, is a tableau of how romantic relationships ebb and flow. With a slight diversion from his traditionally soft, breathy vocals, Stevens’ voice rises in tempo alongside a cacophony of heavy instrumentals as he repeats, “I don’t want to fight at all.” This is Javelin’s most redeeming quality—its ability to showcase love as it is, without pretence or facades.
Listening to this album will make you feel like you are floating, suspended somewhere between the binaries of life and death. It gives Javelin its electric emotional charge. More than anything, it will make you believe in forms of love that transcend these binaries. It is the celebration of queer joy over a decade of romance, a meditation upon the power of faith to navigate loss and a look towards a future with a loved one in paradise.
Shanai Tanwar is a freelance journalist of Indian origin living and working on stolen Musqueam territory. Shanai’s writing has previously appeared in Chatelaine, The Ubyssey, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, and Cosmopolitan Middle East. Her poetry has been published by Plenitude Magazine and Train River Publishing.
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