Metro Weekly

Sufjan Stevens – ‘Javelin’ Review: Coming Out

Sufjan Stevens bares his heart and soul, and again delivers a collection of beautiful songs on his elegaic tenth album.

Sufjan Stevens

There’s a moment in the opening track of Sufjan Steven’s acclaimed 2010 album The Age of Adz, when he sings, “I would say I love you/but saying it out loud is hard,” and after a pause, concludes, “So I won’t say it at all.”

Echoes of that brief and arresting expression of yearning can be found throughout his body of work over the last decade, whether he is grieving an intense personal loss or marveling at the cosmos itself.

Although that finely tuned evasiveness around his own desire has long characterized his music, on his latest release Javelin (★★★★☆) he seems ready to say the quiet parts out loud.

Stevens’ songwriting has always been lyrical, evocative, and rich in metaphor, so it should be no surprise that he has again delivered a collection of beautifully written songs.

What is notable about his writing in Javelin is how intense and personal it is, containing none of the artful detachment of A Beginner’s Mind nor the grandiosity of its predecessor, The Ascension. Instead, he bares his soul with the same open-hearted frankness he brought to 2015’s Carrie and Lowell, his meditation on his complicated grief for his mother.

Unlike Carrie and Lowell, it would be difficult to make the case that Javelin is really “about” anything more than Stevens’ need to be seen and understood. He puts himself at the center of the album, notably forgoing his well-used gift for metaphor and allegory — this time around, it is just him and us.

Circumspect as ever, he never lets onto the exact people and circumstances he is singing about. One of the most folky offerings on the album, “My Little Red Fox,” is a pleading love song that just barely hides its heartache behind a melody that verges on whimsical.

On the more straightforwardly vulnerable “Will Anybody Ever Love Me,” he fixates over swelling drums and flutes on his desperation to be loved and to have a vessel for his own love. Between the rawness and depths of his feelings and his casual honesty about them, in his hands the specifics don’t seem to matter much anyway.

The album flows more or less seamlessly from one track into the next, with most of the songs sounding satisfyingly distinct while following a similar structure, opening softly with a note of uncertainty and blooming by the end into something richer and more nuanced that still manages to retain a sense of closeness.

Tracks like “A Running Start” and “Genuflecting Ghost” feel almost nostalgic, nodding back to his earliest albums with warm, approachable folk melodies that are easy to get lost in. On Javelin, there is a complexity and sophistication lent by electronic elements that he has grown increasingly comfortable infusing into more acoustically-driven offerings.

The warm intimacy of Javelin finds a parallel in the circumstances of its recording, done in Stevens’ home studio with what he described as “a small circle of collaborators.” That small circle also happens to include Bryce Dessner of The National, who has collaborated with Stevens in the past and this time contributes electric and acoustic guitar to “Shit Talk” to great effect.

Stevens will sit with a feeling as long as he needs to, and often his albums have their shining moments in track lengths that would make most of his peers blush. It’s fitting, then, that one of the high points of Javelin is the absorbing eight-minute “Shit Talk,” a sweeping reckoning with the end of a loving relationship through entropy, whose chorus contains one of the most quietly devastating lines on the whole album, “I will always love you/But I cannot look at you.”

Closing out Javelin with a quietly brilliant Neil Young cover that he manages to make his own, Stevens leaves us sharing in his wonder at creation and gently encouraging us to take part in his sense of oneness with the world around him.

Stevens has always made an art out of yearning, for years filling his songs with lyrics about loving and longing for other men, always deftly stopping just short of offering concrete confirmation.

Outwardly at least, he kept his sexuality an open question for years until just days ago, when he publicly marked the release of Javelin by offering a heartrending dedication to his recently deceased partner.

What might be most touching and poignant about that tribute is that it came in the form of an album that feels like the clearest window we’ve yet had into the artist’s own heart.

Javelin is available on streaming services and for purchase through Asthmatic Kitty Records. Visit


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