Sufjan Stevens Is at His Intimate and Uplifting Best on Javelin

In this episode of the Pitchfork Review podcast, our critics discuss the indie darling’s 10th album and why he’s so good at making our tear ducts flow.
Sufjan Stevens
Photo by Dawn Miller. Image by Chris Panicker.

Our weekly podcast includes in-depth analysis of the music we find extraordinary, exciting, and just plain terrible. This week Reviews Director Jeremy D. Larson hosts Associate Staff Writer Nina Corcoran and Associate Editor Sam Sodomsky to break down Sufjan Stevens’ latest album Javelin, which distills many of the sounds and themes he’s been chasing over the last 20 years into a particularly potent brew.

Listen to this week’s episode and read an excerpt from it below. Follow The Pitchfork Review here.

Sam Sodomsky: Do you find this record to be uplifting or spiritually depleting? Because I actually find it to be uplifting in the context of Sufjan’s catalog, and that was a relief to hear.

Nina Corcoran: Same.

Jeremy D. Larson: Yeah, musically I find it very uplifting. The blessing and the curse of Sufjan Stevens is that so much of his work is in conversation with itself, which makes it such a fun cosmology to think about. How does that song relate back to this song? Or how have we seen him change from one album to the next? Is he growing as a person? Is he backsliding? And as fans of his music, we also grow and change with him.

This is a songwriter who’s so closely interrogating his feelings and never wants to let himself off the hook for anything, so his entire discography becomes very insular, right? Which is really fun when you’re inside of it, but I also feel like it can be impenetrable if you’re just coming to this album being like, “I really like Sufjan, let’s see where he’s at now.” It can be very imposing to want to come to that level of emotional honesty and emotional rigor that he’s bringing to this.

Corcoran: Right. I do think that this record feels like cherry-picked homages to all these different eras from Sufjan’s discography, and that actually makes it really accessible—maybe his most accessible record. So someone who has listened at some point in the past, whether it’s a long time ago or recently, will find a song or two they like.

Sodomsky: It’s hard for me to imagine someone who’s predisposed to Sufjan’s music listening to this and being like, “I gotta tap out.” It sounds very current and very inspired, and some of that is intentional. Alongside all his side projects—a lot of ambient music and a lot of collaborations—he tries to have his big-ticket singer-songwriter records be for the casual listener, someone who maybe isn’t as invested in the whole Sufjan universe.