A photo from the lyric booklet to Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell.
  • A photo from the lyric booklet to Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell.
By most accounts, Sufjan Stevens has abandoned his "50 states" concept. Following 2003's Michigan album and 2005's massively successful Illinois, Stevens apparently dropped his grand overarching idea of writing and recording a series of 50 albums, each devoted to a specific state. And who can blame him? It was a ridiculously gargantuan-sounding project, one that would take a lifetime to complete. 2010's The Age of Adz had no ties to the theme, and his upcoming Carrie & Lowell album seemingly doesn't either.

Or does it? The advance review copy of Carrie & Lowell—whose title refers to Stevens' mother and stepfather*—reveals a trove of Oregon tie-ins. First of all, a chunk of it was recorded here in Portland at Flora Studio with Tucker Martine; Laura Veirs appears on some of those tracks. Other portions of the album were recorded on an iPhone in a Klamath Falls hotel room.

The album itself reveals a lot more. There's a photo in the liner notes that is quite obviously the Oregon Coast (see above). And the Beaver State references within the lyrics are myriad. Here's what we've found so far (special thanks to Andrew Tonry for his help).

The song "Should Have Known Better" contains the line "I'm light as a feather/I'm bright as the Oregon breeze."

Additionally, "All of Me Wants All of You" mentions Spencer's Butte, which is on the southern outskirts of Eugene. If that weren't enough, there's an entire song called "Eugene." That song mentions that city's Emerald Park, and also includes a line about a Subaru, which surely is an Oregon reference.

The title track, "Carrie & Lowell," includes the lyric: "Cottage Grove shade, invite me in." This is one of the more obscure songs on the album, also containing non-Oregon-related references to Erebus, Valentine, Opal, and Thorazine, which I think are all elements of Hellenic mythology.

Another song, "No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross," mentions the Dalles, and "Fourth of July" has the lyric, "Tell me, what did you learn from the Tillamook burn?" This is most likely a reference to some cheddar cheese that didn't go down the right way. And "The Only Thing" mentions some "sea lion caves," no doubt the famous ones located on the Oregon Coast.

UPDATE: Here's one I missed: The opening track is titled "Death with Dignity." That surely is an Oregon reference. (Thanks, Bri Brey, for point that out!) Perhaps Stevens has commented elsewhere, or someone else has diagrammed it, but the album appears to contain connected themes of death and loss and parents. I hesitate to comment on Stevens' biography without any concrete facts, but just going from the lyrics, it does seem like he's spent a lot of time in Oregon over the years, and recently had to deal with the death of a loved one.

SECOND UPDATE: There's a lot more about this in a Pitchfork interview. Stevens spent some formative summers in Oregon with his mother and stepfather; his mother, Carrie, passed away in 2012.

Even putting all these connections aside, it's clear Stevens is no stranger to Oregon. He recently scored a film called Round-Up which was shot at the Pendleton Round-Up and contains arty, slo-mo footage of the rodeo. Here's the trailer, which is pretty gorgeous:

Carrie & Lowell comes out on Asthmatic Kitty on March 31, and Stevens plays a Portland show on June 8 at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

* and not to former Bond girl Carey Lowell**
** although with Sufjan, who can say for sure? I'm sure the Carey Lowell tie-in crossed his mind at one point***
*** or maybe I'm just reaching with the whole Carey Lowell thing. I just think about Carey Lowell a lot in general. Licence to Kill is totally underrated. Have you seen it lately? It's kind of amazing. It's a Bond movie trying to imitate those hard-boiled '80s action movies of the era with kind of hilarious results. Wayne Newton is in it! And Carey Lowell, too. I think I mentioned that.****