the darkest hour is right before the dawn


I’ve been listening to the new Sufjan Stevens album ‘Carrie & Lowell’ for the past 24hrs.

This is not really a review, more what is going on my head listening to it.
Good Friday and Holy Saturday seem to be an appropriate time to listen with the themes of loss and death, suffering and hurt, despair swirling around and floating. The album explores themes around the death of his mother in 2012 from stomach cancer and his fraught relationship with her. She struggled with alcohol and mental illness. One song  is called ‘No Shade in the Shadow of the The Cross‘ while another is called ‘Drawn to the Blood’.

I can’t say that I love the album.
I can’t say I love it in the same way that you wouldn’t love a friend telling you hard things that are happening in his life. You are glad that they’ve shared their burdens and had the bravery to do so, you admire their eloquence,you want to listen but it is uncomfortable and awkward. You are worried for them and want more light to make things clearer. It is too raw for enjoyment.
One of the songs ‘The Only Thing‘ has the lines:-

‘The only thing that keeps me from cutting my arm
Cross hatch, warm bath, Holiday Inn after dark
Signs and wonders: water stain writing the wall
Daniel’s message, blood of the moon on us all’

Another one has:-

‘Fuck me I’m falling apart’

In a way the album is jarring because the last time you might have listened to Sufjan was one of his Christmas albums with dancing elves or jolly reindeers. Now he is singing lines like:-

‘Shall we beat this or celebrate it?
You’re not the one to talk things through
You checked your text while I masturbated
Manelich, I feel so used’

Whereas I’m nearly afraid to quote the word ‘masturbated’ or ‘fuck’ on my blog due to a feeling of being inappropriate or being judged for possibly backsliding or being a bad example etc, Sufjan is letting is all hang out.
The album lets so much hang out. I admire that. Part of me wishes that I could write songs or art with more freedom and less worry about trying to please people and not cause offense or awkwardness. I wish it was more honest but coupled with the skill that Sufjan brings to the story telling.
Give me honesty in songwriting and this maybe the most honest record I’ve ever heard. But because of the honesty and struggles the darkness can engulf you a bit. It might be good to share stuff but it mightn’t bring much enjoyment to other people, it might unsettle them.
That is why it seems like a good album for Holy Saturday,that day when Jesus lies in the grave. Everything is dark. Lonely and broken. You know Easter is coming but it’s not really here yet.
Or maybe like Bob Dylan sings:-

‘They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn
They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn
But you wouldn’t know it by me
Every day’s been darkness since you been gone’

I couldn’t help but wonder where he was spiritually. Where are the chinks of light in the album?
Not in a judgemental way, more for myself I guess. I need to know that death doesn’t have the final say in the brokenness of the world and relationship. After I listened to Good Friday and Holy Saturday I need Easter Sunday morning to come and have the final say.

2 thoughts on “the darkest hour is right before the dawn”

  1. I had not read your post—and had never listened to Sufjan Stevens—yet but I remembered that you had written about this album and had liked your drawing, so somehow that pointed me to listen to it on a music streaming site early this early frosty and sunny morning despite the not too appealing cover. This is a Thank You for nudging me in this direction ! what an amazingly human album, wow.
    Listened to Benjamin Valentine particularly Adios a good few times last night, you may like it, pretty raw too in a truly inspiring way.

    There is hope.

    1. Yes,there is hope.. was having breakfast in one of those old style hotels this morning in Kilkee, rain coming down and waves and then a song of his came on…lovely sad.I’ll check Benjamin Valentine out when I get home again…thanks!

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