As can be expected of an album inspired by a mother’s death, Sufjan Stevens’ latest is an unabashed, quietly intense, and heartbreaking album. But, Stevens doesn’t dilute his introspection with an attempt to be universally understood. Carrie & Lowell is not an album for us. It’s an anthology of sweetly-sung reflection elucidated for the sake of its creator’s sanity.

Musically, we’ve heard Stevens in this primarily-acoustic element before (Seven Swans, Greetings from Michigan) but his melodic whispers have never seemed so poignant, his complex arrangements never so perfectly understated. Somehow, Carrie & Lowell feels both immediately familiar, and entirely new.

Stevens discusses the context of his life and works to expel his demons in an almost uncomfortably intimate fashion on this album (see: All of Me Wants All of You), but the outcome is our first real, unhindered look at the enigmatic Detroit-native. While Carrie & Lowell stands as an exceptional tour of emotional force on its own, it more importantly marks the renaissance of Sufjan Stevens as well as our understanding of him.