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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Sufjan Stevens dedicates moving album to late partner

Sufjan Stevens performs at Eaux Claires music festival in red sunglasses. Stevens recently released his album “Javelin,” dedicating it to his partner who passed away in April. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP)

As Sufjan Stevens released his new album “Javelin” Friday, he also revealed the death of his partner Evans Richardson.

In an Instagram post, Stevens provided a rare, open glimpse into his usually tightly guarded private life. 

“This album is dedicated to the light of my life, my beloved partner and best friend Evans Richardson, who passed away in April,” Stevens said. “He was an absolute gem of a person, full of life, love, laughter, curiosity, integrity and joy.”

Stevens continued, “I know relationships can be very difficult sometimes, but it’s always worth it to put in the hard work and care for the ones you love.”

It’s difficult to listen to “Goodbye Evergreen,” the opening track from “Javelin,” without thinking of Stevens’ recent post. The lines “Goodbye, Evergreen / You know I love you / But everything heaven sent / Must burn out in the end” paint a painful portrait of a wounded but loving relationship that has come to an unfortunate end.

The following track, “A Running Start,” will take fans back to the artist’s acclaimed album “Illinois” with its sweeping orchestral arrangements and choral vocals. However, the song lacks the dazzling grandiosity of “Illinois,” instead opting for a more subtle, understated approach. 

“Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” is vintage Stevens, combining his wistful, whispered vocals with a tranquil finger-picked acoustic guitar. The lyrics are straightforward and ask a simple question: Is true love really possible? 

The track doesn’t attempt to answer that question but instead ruminates on the suffering that can accompany such overwhelming loneliness and insecurity. Few artists are able to transform pain into gentle, elegant beauty in the way that Stevens does.

This strength has taken Stevens to great heights throughout his long career. On his 2015 album, “Carrie & Lowell,” he somehow managed to approach the death of his mother with a contemplative sense of peace and serenity.

While it’s not clear whether the songs on “Javelin” were written before or after the death of Richardson, the album still feels like a companion piece to “Carrie & Lowell” in its cathartic explorations of grief and fractured relationships. 

The closing track of “Javelin,” “There’s a World,” is a rather cryptic song with spiritual undertones. Much like “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” the track feels open-ended, exploring feelings and ideas instead of searching for answers. 

With the lines, “There’s a world you’re (There’s a world you’re) livin’ in (Livin’ in) / No one else has your part / All God’s children (All God’s children) in the wind (In the wind) / Take it in and blow real hard,” Stevens modestly contemplates the meaning of life and the place each human being holds in the world.

Musically, there are few surprises on “Javelin.” However, it doesn’t feel as though Stevens is repeating himself or attempting to go back to the sound that made him famous. 

His new life experiences are freshly revealed and explored on the album in a way that feels true to himself, even if the sound is somewhat predictable.

“Javelin” serves as proof that Stevens possesses the remarkable gift of being able to take whatever trauma life throws at him and turn it into a stunning, moving work of art.

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