Heartbreak is right at the core of this latest release from Sufjan Stevens. External matters will always impact music – and considering the recent updates regarding the personal life of Stevens, it is impossible to not let this weigh on Javelin. It is as tender a piece as it gets for the Illinois star, whose personal life has always been reflected and refracted through his music. Carrie and Lowell still ring as a truthful powerhouse, and much the same can be said for Javelin. Let the music speak for itself – it has always been the way Stevens goes about his work. But there are times when the work is not enough. It is more than enough here, Javelin makes easy work of piercing the heart and remaining consistent with its emotional range, but context to follow makes an already touching record a heartbreaker.
From the first calming notes of a soon-to-explode Goodbye Evergreen to the chilling finality and realisation of permanent conclusion on There’s A World, Stevens presents his best works so far. The metallic clanks, the bells of Christmas and the cacophony of instruments which break up the track as more than words of love is a touching moment to open with, and Goodbye Evergreen feels like an intense high, never to be topped. Follow-up A Running Start is trapped in the shadow of Stevens’ best work to date, but there was always a track ready to take the fall on Javelin. It is no coincidence Will Anybody Ever Love Me? pledges burning hearts to a backdrop of seasonal variations. Subtle flourishes of seasonal change can be heard amid the backing vocalist groups, the shimmering tambourines and electronic kick. Grand in scope and touching in delivery, these songs come together with such burning passion and the fire of pain burns from many facets for Stevens.
Religious textures and demonic assemblies form the core of Everything That Rises, again the backing vocals a strong inclusion. Music as a way to demonstrate mortality and loss is nothing new, but how Stevens orchestrates his feelings and turns his doubts into touching and even understandable shockwaves of a truly difficult time is mesmerising. Lead single So You Are Tired is expectedly heartbreaking yet features a musical clarity usually not found in grief. Gory intentions on Javelin (To Have And To Hold) are as delicate as it gets for Stevens here, the heartwrenching piece feels like a stick piercing the heart. His clarity through grief is not just brave, that is too easy a word to throw at an artist taking to the studio in a time of need, but it is shockingly warm.
Lengthy orchestral on Shit Talk gives the listener and Stevens a chance to breathe. It is needed for the crashing finality present through this – the wispy voices which dominate this album lost in those tender moments of There’s A World. Javelin is more than just a process of grief – it can survive with or without this featured theme. Stevens’ work has moved many for decades and it is here in this piece which sees him generate a calm and shockingly mature look at grief, at a time when putting cognitive thoughts together is surely a hell of a challenge. Listeners would be hard-pressed to find much better in Stevens’ discography than this piece right here.