words by tom johnson
It feels somewhat odd to be hearing new music from Sufjan Stevens. Even though the release of Carrie & Lowell came, somewhat unbelievably, some two-and-a-half years ago such is the weight of its shadow that it still feels mightily pertinent, or perhaps like it’s just always been here, omnipresent and all encompassing, like the weather, like muddled memories of youth.
It remains, of course, one of the great documentary records, a depiction of Sufjan’s memory of his mother and step-father who lent their names to its title, ten gentle tracks that tell stories from a life that came and went and still exists; ten gentle tracks with the ability that hit like reverberate still, now, so many days and months later.
But here we are regardless. The passing of time, the world moving on, leading us to ‘The Greatest Gift’ mixtape; a new collection of outtakes, remixes, and demos from the Carrie & Lowell project, and one that comes beautifully to life today with the unveiling of ‘Wallowa Lake Monster’, one of four previously unheard tracks that were recorded at the same time as those that made the final record.
The bulk of Carrie & Lowell’s narrative wove together personal reflections of Sufjan’s childhood summers with real-life events from the world around him (the Tillamook Burn forest fires; ‘Spencer Butte’, the highest point in Eugene, Oregon), and occasional biblical and mythical references, that have always played such a prominent role in his previous work, and Wallowa acts as the natural meeting point of all of this, interspersing stories of his mother with the story of ‘Wally’, a “distinctly non-monstrous” monster which supposedly resides in the aforementioned body of water. “As if you know the story of Wallowa Lake…but have you heard the story of my mother’s fate?” Sufjan sings, over the subtly layered backdrop that bound each of Carrie & Lowell’s tracks so tightly to one another.
Seemingly borrowing pieces of melody from other Sufjan tracks, or perhaps just so instantly characteristic it never feels like a unheard song, Wallowa rolls on for just shy of seven-minutes, Sufjan’s soft, often ambiguous words eventually giving way to a beautiful two-minute instrumental outro which would have set it apart from everything else found on as C&L. As it is, it sits as a both a beautiful reminder and a captivating expression all of its own; another mesmerising invitation in to a time and place that doesn’t belong to us but feels overwhelmingly affectionate regardless.
Check it out below right now; the full album is released on November 24th via Asthmatic Kitty.