album

'That Song You Sing For The Dead'

BIBLICAL LAMENT includes both pleas to God for help and mournful dirges. Sometimes they are rooted in individual travails and grief, other times in anguish for those crushed by injustice or war.

The psalmist and the prophets dig deep into visceral images of bodily suffering—and stretch up, out, yearning to find symbols and metaphors in nature that might capture the mercy and presence of a God who, the psalmist isn’t afraid to say, is sometimes a bit elusive.

The album Carrie & Lowell is indie musician Sufjan Stevens’ multifaceted lament: For a mother, Carrie, he lost at least twice—to mental illness, addiction, and abandonment when he was a child and to cancer when he was a man. For the grief that surprised him after her death. For his inability, as he sings to his mother, to “save you from your sorrow,” hinting at that lingering, impossible guilt felt by so many children of troubled parents. Stevens reaches no tidy resolution in the course of the work (although early on, in the first song, he does offer that most basic, difficult, and saving grace: “I forgive you, mother”).

So why would you want to listen to something that speaks of so much pain? For starters, these are exquisitely spare, beautiful, and haunting folk-not-quite-rock songs. Stevens’ gift for hook and melody here is distilled, deceptively delicate, carried by few instruments and subtle effects. Layered vocals and harmonies swell up on a bridge or carry a song wordlessly to the end, like waiting choruses of angels, or ghosts.

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New & Noteworthy

Truth and Satire
The witty film satire Dear White People is a comic entry point into a serious, much-needed conversation about race relations on college campuses. The storylines of four African-American students at a prestigious university spotlight a culture of racism that is easily and dangerously concealed by academia’s progressive posture. dearwhitepeoplemovie.com

Folk Extravaganza
The album Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of “Inside Llewyn Davis,” recorded at a 2013 concert, features Punch Brothers, Joan Baez, The Avett Brothers, Gillian Welch, and others. The 34 tracks include a whiskey anthem and a classic hymn, a Vietnam War protest song and a farewell lament. Nonesuch

Well Versed
In Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections in the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels, edited by Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani, more than 40 contributors offer personal essays on the Bible passages that challenge, confound, or delight them. Jericho Books

Making Food Fair
Those who feed America can’t always afford to feed their families, but they’re working to change that. The documentary Food Chains follows the lives of farm laborers, an invaluable and abused segment of our population, as they fight for fair wages by going straight to the top offenders: supermarkets. foodchainsfilm.com

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ICYMI: Heavy Hearts on The Head and the Heart's Sophomore Release

Photo by Curtis Wave Millard

The Head and the Heart released their sophomore album last week. Photo by Curtis Wave Millard

Life is riddled with a smorgasbord of emotional highs, lows, tragedies, triumphs, and what might feel like monotony to fill in the gaps.

On the newest album from Seattle folk and Americana band The Head and the Heart, you can feel the wear and tear of a group who have simply experienced a lot and probably had little time to rest and reflect.

“When I think about the two records together, the first one feels like we all wanted to fulfill this dream we’d had about playing music, meeting people and traveling around,” drummer Tyler Williams told Sub Pop. “This one feels like the consequences of doing that — what relationships did you ruin? What other things did you miss? You always think it will all be perfect once you just do ‘this.’ And that’s not always the case.”

New & Noteworthy

Landing on a Hundred by Cody ChesnuTT / After Kony: Staging Hope by First Run Feature / Kind of Kin by Rilla Askew / The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation by Stephen R. Haynes

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Julie Polter is Senior Associate Editor at Sojourners.

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