The somber, ambient-folk nuance of the album Carrie & Lowell earned a new gaggle of Sufjan Stevens fans in 2015.

Tracks like "Drawn To The Blood" and "No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross" found the singer processing his sexuality in light of religious and societal pressure and carried with them a solemn introspection. Then came Planetarium, his 2017 follow-up collaboration with James McAlister, Bryce Dessner, and Nico Muhly: an expansive, be it at times lethargic, odyssey of a project that retained none of Carrie & Lowell's signature angst. Steven's contribution to the Call Me By Your Name soundtrack recaptured the haunting aesthetic of his 2015 masterpiece with "Visions of Gideon," but his other two offerings, (one of which was an Age of Adz remaster) rang hollow, with "Mystery of Love" in particular caving under the weight of its cliche narrative. "The rhymes are too neat, the phrasing is too precious...and Stevens' coo is so honeyed, it's cloying," wrote Pitchfork of the song. By now, Carrie & Lowell feels almost like a distant memory, and it feels impossible for Sufjan Stevens to get close again.

In honor of pride month, Sufjan Stevens announced his return with two new songs, "Love Yourself" and "With My Whole Heart," both atmospheric and synth-infused in their own right, but far more grounded than his work on Planetarium. The latter is especially optimistic for a Stevens track, with the singer crafting it as a personal challenge "to write an upbeat and sincere love song without conflict, anxiety or self-deprecation." The track ultimately succeeds and is a welcome departure from the singer's usual, heavy-handed angst. "Love Yourself," which is allegedly based off of a "sketch" that Stevens wrote 20 years ago, is more of a slow-burn, and while the melody is enjoyable, the singer's opaque lyrics leave much to be desired: "Make a shelf, put all the things on, that you believe in," he sings.

Regardless, it is nice to hear the hushed echo of Sufjan Stevens again, and while the two new tracks may still not satisfy Carrie & Lowell fanatics, the tracks paint a clearer picture of who Sufjan Stevens is becoming: a fluid artist whose boundless emotional spectrum has led listeners to question everything from their own sexuality to humanity's place in the universe. A portion of the new EP's proceeds will benefit the Ali Forney Center and the Ruth Ellis Center, both of which fight to end homophobia and child abuse. Ultimately, these new tracks showcase Sufjan Stevens as an evergreen artist who's always believed that his art is part of a higher calling.

Culture Feature

Randonauting for the First Time: Here’s What Really Happened

The Randonautica app led me to a mysterious empty road. Researching it led me to conspiracy theories, quantum physics, simulation theory, manifestation techniques, and chaos magic.

The Dead Zone

The trip began with a wrong turn.

I drove confidently down the street until I realized I was going in the wrong direction, and veered down a dead-end to turn around.

Immediately, I wondered if this was symbolic, a sign from the universe that I should turn back. On a randonauting trip—at least if you adopt the open-minded and deeply superstitious mindset of many of the app's roughly 10 million and counting users—everything takes on a weird and ominous meaning, adopting a number of possibly divine implications.

The app led me down the street, out of my immediate neighborhood and up some of the windiest streets in my town in upstate New York. Treacherous even on the sunniest day of summer, the serpentine road set me on edge. Suddenly, a car veered towards me out of nowhere, forcing me to swerve.

When I arrived at the destination, all I saw was forest on both sides, two parallel ravines on the edge of the paved road. I opened up the Randonautica app as if it would give me some kind of wisdom about what I was supposed to find.

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