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First Listen: 'Carrie & Lowell' By Sufjan Stevens


Nothing like some indie rock to start your day. One of the brightest stars in that genre has a new album out next week. It's Sufjan Stevens. The album is called "Carrie And Lowell." We bring you Bob and Robin. That would be Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton, the hosts of All Songs Considered.


SUFJAN STEVENS: (Singing) Should have known better to see what I could see. My black shroud...

ROBIN HILTON, BYLINE: Bob Boilen, I think it's safe to say that Sufjan Stevens is one of the most prolific and absolutely gifted American songwriters of the 21st century. Wouldn't you say that?


HILTON: He first got everyone's attention back in 2003. He announced that he was going to make albums about each of the 50 states. He got two records into it - Michigan and Illinois. They were phenomenal records. And then he scrapped that project and got into all kinds of other music, projects and styles. He did electronic music, hip-hop. And then his last official studio record was this mind-bending masterpiece - heavy electronics, synths, chopped up beats.

BOILEN: An extravaganza. Now he's completely stripped it down. It's returned to an intimate sound - mostly guitar, though there are nice, strange and beautiful, beautiful underpinning sounds.


STEVENS: (Singing) When I was three - three, maybe four - she left us at that video store.

BOILEN: Sufjan Stevens has always sort of mixed fact with fiction, mythology, religion. And on this record, he focuses on something that's very deep and personal, and it's about the death of his mom a few years ago. His mom abandoned him when he was just one year old. He really didn't know her. She was a schizophrenic and alcoholic.

He remembers a few summers when Lowell, his stepfather, and his mom, Carrie, were together. Lowell had a bookstore there in Eugene, Ore., where Sufjan would go in the summers. And those are the memories - the only memories - he has of his mom until the point just recently when he was by her bedside when she passed away.


STEVENS: (Singing) The evil - it spread like a fever ahead. It was night when you died, my firefly.

HILTON: But "Carrie And Lowell" isn't at all a sentimental record. It's a very lovely record, but it's very dark as he tries to work through these experiences, some of which he has said were truly horrifying. On one song called "The Only Thing," he even contemplates suicide.


STEVENS: (Singing) Should I tear my eyes out now? Everything I see returns to you somehow.

HILTON: And while this record is full of so much heartache and Sufjan has said that he continues to struggle with coming to terms with a lot of these things, he has, in at least some ways, moved on and come to terms with it. On one of the songs he says that his prayer has always been love. On one of the songs, he says that his prayer has always been love. But the real ending seems to be the first song of the record. He begins with the end, a song called "Death With Dignity" where he expresses forgiveness for his mother for leaving him and...

BOILEN: And doing the right thing is how he comes to understand it. She was not capable of taking care of him.

HILTON: Right. And also his understanding, as he says throughout this record, that all things pass.


STEVENS: (Singing) I forgive you, mother. I can hear you. And I long to be near you, but every road leads to an end.

GREENE: The voices of Robin Hilton and Bob Boilen, hosts of All Songs Considered, discussing Sufjan Stevens' new album "Carrie And Lowell." It comes out next week. It is part of our series First Listen, and you can stream the album all this week at our website, npr.org/music. And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Green.


STEVENS: (Singing) You'll never see us again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.