Music, Arts

Sufjan Stevens Reflects Upon and Celebrates Life in Moving New Album, ‘Javelin’


At this point in his 23-year career, Sufjan Stevens has nothing else left to prove. Yet still, his heartfelt songwriting, beautiful instrumental arrangements, and mastery of dynamics combine to create a deeply personal and touching album experience with Javelin.

Javelin is an extremely moving masterpiece of emotion-filled anecdotes that peer into Stevens’ current outlook on love and life. It contrasts an overwhelmingly somber tone with moments of hope that pulse through it like the swells of group vocals used so masterfully across the project. 

Javelin is nothing short of both a masterpiece of musicality and songwriting, and a worthy and meaningful dedication to a lover lost too soon. 

Sufjan Stevens posted on his Instagram account to reveal he was dedicating the project to his late partner, Evan Richardson, who died in April, 2023. 

“Live every day as if it is your last, with fullness and grace, with reverence and love, with gratitude and joy,” Stevens said in the post caption. “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” 

With this in mind before listening to the album, Javelin gains a more intimate and emotional meaning. It is both a deeply personal reflection on the death of a loved one and a celebration of life in honor of a late partner. 

As his 10th solo studio album and first since 2020’s The Ascension, Javelin feels like an accumulation of everything Stevens has done up to this point in his career. It combines the rich instrumentation of 2005’s Illinois, the somber songwriting of 2015’s Carrie & Lowell, and the electronic elements that appear on 2010’s The Age of Adz

Despite the vast range of elements it implements from other projects, the album manages to remain incredibly cohesive throughout. This credit goes to Stevens, who constructed nearly every aspect of Javelin himself, including the lyrics, arrangements, instrumentation, production, engineering, and album artwork. 

The album begins with a deep breath—a sign of preparation for what’s to come. Then, Stevens begins to sing, and the 42-minute experience commences.

“Goodbye Evergreen,” the first track on the album, begins as a heartfelt goodbye to a lover. In the song, Stevens is backed only by a piano and his own memories. But the track quickly transforms and explodes, as the listener is enveloped by stabs of noise.

“Goodbye evergreen / You know I love you,” repeats in the song before it concludes with a rewarding instrumental piece filled with abstract percussion and beautiful synth lines. 

“So You Are Tired” is another powerful track, highlighted by beautiful melodies and goosebump-inducing group vocals that are enough to make any listener’s hair stand on end. These vocals and their accompanying string arrangements swell in and out in harmony, like a person breathing as they drift off to sleep. 

“Shit Talk” comes in as the longest song on the album with an 8:31 run time. Stevens uses every second masterfully, again beautifully incorporating group vocals that back the repetition of some emotional lines.

“I don’t want to fight at all / I will always love you,” Stevens sings on “Shit Talk.”

On “Shit Talk,” Stevens struggles with having endless love for someone but knowing he’ll never be able to see or experience them again. Stevens’ vocals across the entire track are particularly vulnerable and wavering, as if he is on the verge of tears throughout the entire runtime. 

“There’s A World” is a touching final track for the album and is a cover of the song of the same title by Neil Young. After a somber tracklist, “There’s A World” ends things on a meaningfully hopeful note. 

“There’s a world you’re living in / No one else has your part,” rings out in “There’s a World.”

Then the singer closes the last track with a line that unifies humanity through an optimistic lens . 

“All God’s children in the wind / Take it in and blow real hard,” sings Stevens to conclude the album.

The deep breath that began this album has returned in the form of this line of self-direction. Just as Stevens once prepared himself to expel his feelings on this album with the action, he now symbolically prepares himself for the rest of his life with one final deep breath.

October 15, 2023