By Bryony Holdsworth
Released in 2015, Carrie & Lowell is the seventh studio album by American indie folk singer Sufjan Stevens. The beautifully candid LP was an outpouring of grief, inspired by the death of his mother in 2012. Nearly 3 years later, Sufjan has indulged fans with The Greatest Gift: “Outtakes, remixes and demos from Carrie & Lowell”.
Carrie & Lowell was characteristically different from the last two albums, technically stripped back and saw Sufjan complimenting his lyrical compassion with acoustic guitar and piano melodies. The remixes on The Greatest Gift show Stevens returning to electronic production, blending his voice with the musical accompaniment to create a wispy, haunting finish. The album is also graced with a fingerpicked version of ‘Drawn to the Blood’ and pocketed with a few iPhone demos, this time Steven’s voice is the strongest component and dangerously close.
‘Wallowa Lake Monster’, a new number on the LP, weaves mythical beasts with the death of his mother. The song is cleverly set out like an old folk tale, opening with the line: “As if you know the story of Wallowa Lake”, but instead of following the tale of a legendary beast it twists into the fate of human suffering, “the monster” emerging as his mother’s alcoholism and struggles with mental health.
The electronic backings are ethereal, encompassing the entire album in an eerie melody. An extension of its dark predecessor, The Greatest Gift once again revisits the pain of Steven’s past. Except this time, there seems to be a faint twinkle of hope around the edges.