By Liam Owen
There are few things that are as personal while also simultaneously universal as grief. Everyone experiences the loss of someone dear to them, a pet, a parent, a friend, and yet, as Kendrick Lamar pointed out, “Everybody grieves different.” We can empathize, but not fully sympathize, with one’s loss. Javelin, however, allows us to do both.
Sufjan Stevens dedicated this, his 10th studio album, to his late partner who he described as “an absolute gem of a person, full of life, love, laughter, curiosity, integrity and joy.” Losing a partner or a lover can be one of the most painful experiences life holds. Many who do become bitter or simply lose the will to live entirely.
This isn’t the case with Stevens. The lyrics in here can be tragic, yes, but this work feels not so much like a mourning brought on by death but a celebration of life in both an intimate and communal form.
This isn’t a mere return to a singer-songwriter style for him musically, but a profound bittersweet exploration of love, loss and moving on.
Like the collage in the album artwork, the songs on this record are all colorful with many different shades and hues. Most of the tracks are blooming flowers: they start with him and a guitar/piano and expand into a vast, ethereal musical world. It seems like the artist is comforting himself throughout the recalling of both beautiful memories and harrowing emotional experiences. The atmosphere that this creates is one that both soothes and saddens the soul of the listener.
This dichotomy is also explored in the album’s production. Many songs, such as the standout “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” and “A Running Start,” feature an almost tribal aesthetic, utilizing bongos, tambourines and wind instruments to add a Disney-esque sense of community and magic.
There are also tracks, like “Everything That Rises,” which evoke more mechanical and gear-driven instrumentation, often reflecting the cold nature of life that can arise in the shadow of death.
The album works itself to a grand thesis statement in the form of “Shit Talk,” an almost nine-minute track that is as sprawling and cathartic as the record itself. There is no emotion the album doesn’t cover in its relatively short 42 minutes.
As the album ends with a soft kiss goodbye in the form of a cover of a Neil Young song, I could not help but be reminded of a line from the final Harry Potter book, a sentiment that captures the spirit of the entire album: “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all those who live without love.”