For the last two decades, Sufjan Stevens’ music has taken on two distinct forms. On one end, you have the ornate, orchestral, and positively stuffed style that he’s excelled at since the conceptual fantasias of 2003’s star-making Michigan. On the other, there’s the sparse and close-to-the-bone narrative folk-pop songwriting that’s marked some of his most well-known singles and albums, first fully realized on the stark and revelatory Seven Swans from 2004. His 10th studio full-length, Javelin, represents the fullest and richest merging of those two approaches that Stevens has achieved to date. Even as it’s been billed as his first proper “songwriter’s album” since 2015’s autobiographical and devastating Carrie & Lowell, Javelin is a kaleidoscopic distillation of everything Stevens has achieved in his career so far, resulting in some of the most emotionally affecting and grandiose-sounding music he’s ever made. Javelin is Stevens’ first solo record of vocal-based music since 2020’s The Ascension, and it’s relatively straightforward compared to its predecessor’s complexity. Featuring contributions from vocalists and frequent collaborators like Nedelle Torrisi, adrienne maree brown, Hannah Cohen, and The National’s Bryce Dessner (who adds his guitar skills to the heart-bursting epic “Shit Talk”), the record certainly sounds like a full-group effort in opposition to the angsty isolation that streaked The Ascension. But at the heart of Javelin is Stevens’ vocals, the intimacy of which makes listeners feel as if they’re mere feet away from him. There’s callbacks to Stevens’ discography throughout, from the Age of Adz-esque digital dissolve that closes out “Genuflecting Ghost” to the rustic Flannery O’Connor evocations of “Everything That Rises,” recalling Seven Swans’ inspirational cues from the late fiction writer. Ultimately, though, Javelin finds Stevens emerging from the depressive cloud of The Ascension armed with pleas for peace and a distinct yearning to belong and be embraced—powerful messages delivered on high, from one of the 21st century’s most empathetic songwriters.

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