Exclaim!'s Top 27 Albums of 2015 So Far

4. Sufjan Stevens
Carrie & Lowell
(Asthmatic Kitty)

After a decade experimenting with everything from electronic avant-pop to Christmas music to conceptual orchestral pieces, Carrie & Lowell is Sufjan Stevens' most focused and folksy album to date. Inspired by the death of his estranged mother in 2012, this beautiful 11-song cycle does away with Stevens' ambitious tendencies in favour of more delicate, restrained balladry. Acoustic guitar, piano and ambient synth textures provide the gorgeous backdrop for a devastatingly honest portrayal of his mother's life, and his grief at her loss.

And yet, while the circumstances are harrowing, Carrie & Lowell is ultimately about forgiveness and love. "Should Have Known Better" begins with feelings of depression and abandonment, but as the arrangement beautifully unfurls, Stevens offers a glimmer of hope for the future: "My brother had a daughter / The beauty that brings, illumination."
Alex Hudson