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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Pace chapter.

On Aug. 14, 2023, American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sufjan (pronounced SOOF-yahn) Stevens announced the Oct. 6, 2023 release of his upcoming tenth studio album. Most well-known for his work on the soundtrack of the 2017 coming-of-age movie Call Me By Your Name, Stevens has been releasing music since the late ‘90s and is a beloved voice of the indie-folk scene. Since the 2005 release of his critically acclaimed album Illinois, Stevens has followed an unspoken consistent solo studio album release cycle of once every five years, with his most recent solo album being released in 2020. The announcement of Javelin came as a surprise to fans and critics alike, many of whom didn’t expect a solo studio album from him until 2025. Any release from Stevens is bound to foster excitement and will likely end up on many best-of-the-year lists from music publications. 

Stevens has always been particularly private about his personal life, especially following his move to upstate New York in 2019 after residing in New York City for 20 years. Stevens exclusively uses Tumblr as his only form of social media, and a month after he announced the upcoming release of Javelin, he updated fans on his health, sharing that he had recently been hospitalized and diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome – a rare autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the nerves – which was why he hadn’t done much promotion for the album. Since his recent announcement, he has been posting near-daily updates on his condition, and on Oct. 5, he shared that he would be going home the next day, just in time for the release of Javelin

Stevens released three promotional singles leading up to the release of Javelin, entitled “So You Are Tired,” “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” and “A Running Start.” Upon the first single’s release, it was widely accepted that Stevens was finally returning to his folk roots after exploring a more experimental and electronic side of music in his past solo albums. The first two singles are devastatingly sad, though even with his misfortune, Stevens stated, “I know I’ve often been the poster child of pain, loss, and loneliness. And I can be a misanthrope at times. But the past month has renewed my hope in humanity.” Stevens’ positivity comes through on the third single, “A Running Start,” an uplifting and lively song about the early stages of falling in love. 

On the day of the album’s release, Stevens made a post sharing that Javelin was dedicated to his late partner, Evans Richardson. After nearly two decades of speculations from critics and fans alike, Stevens publicly confirmed his sexuality. Over the years, many debated whether his songs referred to male love interests or God, as Stevens is a known Christian and utilizes religious imagery in his lyrics. Although this wasn’t a coming out post, by being open about his sexuality as a devout Christian, Stevens has created a space for queer people to embrace their identities while also staying true to their faith. 

Only time will tell, but Javelin may just be Stevens’ best album yet. It incorporates key elements of all of his standout albums – the enchanting choirs of Illinois, the twisting folk guitar of Carrie & Lowell, and the electronic touches of Age of Adz – all while bringing a fresh new sound and staying true to his classic themes of love and loss. Many critics are calling Javelin a “return-to-form,” but with each release from Stevens, he shows that while he has developed signature themes and sounds over the years, he always has something new to bring to the table. On Javelin, Stevens has mastered finding a certain comfort and warmth in grief, a feeling we all know well. The melodies can only be described as melancholic whimsy. While almost the entire tracklist brings sadness and longing to its listeners, each song ends more hopeful than it began. Lush blends of acoustic and electronic instrumentals fill the spaces where words can no longer capture the feelings Stevens longs to express. Like the majority of Stevens’ studio albums, Javelin is almost entirely self-written and self-produced, with the exception of a choir of his peer musicians on backing vocals and The National’s Bryce Dessner lending a hand on guitar for “Sh*t Talk,” an eight-minute triumph of a song. 

Javelin opens with “Goodbye Evergreen,” which begins with Stevens audibly inhaling, as if to signify his preparation to confess everything he has suffered through by himself. It starts as a somber piano-led track and quickly transitions into an exploding electronic masterpiece. Stevens’ pain can be heard in his voice as he bids farewell to his partner, accepting what he has lost, but holding onto his memory. While Stevens opens the album with a goodbye to his partner, the tracklist seems to take listeners on a journey through the ups and downs of their relationship. “I know relationships can be very difficult,” he remarks in his most recent post. Without truly hearing the lyrics, “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” first comes off as an easy listen, but with its exceedingly self-deprecating lyrics, it’s a desperate plea to be loved and understood.

Stevens’ religious themes are prevalent on Javelin, most notably in “Everything That Rises.” The titular line of the song pulls from French philosopher Pierre Teilhard De Chardin’s famous quote, “Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love…For everything that rises must converge.” Throughout the verses, Stevens references the Book of Genesis (“Turn your face around like a salted sphere”), the Book of Matthew (“Cast me not in Hell”), and the Book of Ezekiel (“Turn yourself away from the wickedness”). Paired with the verses, the refrain seems to serve as an expression of self-acceptance; perhaps Stevens is reflecting on his struggle with his identity within his Christian faith. “Genuflecting Ghost,” which directly follows “Everything That Rises” on the track list, features restless folk guitar arpeggios and melisma-filled prayer-like lyrics addressed towards Stevens’ late partner, also with heavy religious undertones, including multiple references to Judgement Day.

“My Red Little Fox,” the sixth track on the album, is a euphonious yearning for connection and transformation. Stevens tenderly refers to his partner, the subject of the song, as his “red little fox,” singing, “Kiss me with the fire of gods.” The song encapsulates his longing for intense intimacy. “Kiss me from within,” he requests, as if he is aching for the affection he once knew. The sixth track encompasses some of the most vital themes of the album, but it does so through its showcase of the beauty found in simplicity. 

“So You Are Tired,” with its raw confessions of a struggling relationship, is a standout that marks a turning point in the progression of the tracklist. “So you are tired of even my kiss,” he sings in a soothing whisper before the song transitions into a wordless major-key resolution. The title track, “Javelin (To Have And To Hold”), introduces a more heart-wrenching side to the album as Stevens sets an enthralling scene: “Searching through the snow / For the javelin I had not meant to throw right at you.” The javelin metaphor is symbolic of an attempt to harm a loved one and the regret that comes with it. “It’s a terrible thought to have and hold,” he sings, imagining his attempt had been successful, and living with the guilt of his ill feelings. What follows this confession is “Sh*t Talk,” which may very well go down as one of Stevens’ greatest songs ever. It further explores the themes of the title track, bringing listeners to a fuller understanding of the regret that comes with Stevens’ unresolved conflicts: “In the future there will be a terrible cost for all that we’ve left undone.” The realizations he makes in hindsight of the passing of his partner have a divine ability to break the heart of anyone willing to listen. He pleads incessantly, “Hold me closely / Hold me tightly lest I fall,” and his final repetition before the choir takes over is a strained falsetto that is filled with unimaginable pain. The choir comes in and the music swells before falling into an ambient instrumentation that lingers long enough for listeners – and perhaps Stevens himself – to recover from the overwhelming emotions the song engenders. 

The album concludes on a high note with a cover of Neil Young’s “There’s A World,” from his essential 1972 album Harvest, which Stevens manages to make even softer and sweeter to the ear. Besides the distinct difference in the sound of the song, Stevens changes one line to be more hopeful than ever. The original line is, “See what it brings, could be good things in the air for you,” but Stevens sings, “…in the air for me and you,” showing that despite what he has lost, he still sees a positive future for himself. 

Stevens brings a rare honesty to his lyrics that is visceral, heartbreaking, and captivating. On Javelin, he offers a candid gaze into his heart and mind as he asks questions of himself, his partner, and the world around him and embraces the joy he sometimes finds in the answers. 

Javelin is now available for streaming on Apple Music and Spotify.

Savannah is a writer for Her Campus at Pace University. She typically covers music through album reviews and anaylsis. She is a junior at Pace University, majoring in Arts & Entertainment Management. She was a junior editor for Her Campus at Pace last year (2022-2023) and assisted in the initial editing process of the editorial team. Savannah is a singer-songwriter, guitarist, and pianist, and is releasing music for the first time this year. In her free time, she enjoys listening to music, reading, and travelling.