Sufjan Stevens has long since passed the point in his career where anything he makes is inevitably going to be discussed in terms of how it relates to his previous works, and given Stevens’ status as one of the rare truly prolific artists to emerge in the last few decades, as well as one of the most lauded, that’s a hell of a lot of material for a new release to stack up to. Yet Javelin does so effortlessly, and already seems destined to reach a similar status as Stevens’ consensus classics. On first brush, both in terms of its sound and in the context of the multiple tragedies that Stevens experienced in the months leading up to its release, the album seems clearly to be a follow-up to his 2015 indie folk masterwork Carrie and Lowell. And this is true, in a way, but further analysis reveals Javelin to have its own identity, even if pretty much every idea it presents has been explored by Stevens at some point in his career. While this is, at heart, a folk album, with most songs featuring prominent acoustic lines as their primary grounding, alongside Stevens’ personal (and often heartbreaking) lyrics and vocals, the reality is more complicated. Most of these songs build gradually over the course of their runtimes, adorned by lush arrangements complemented by electronics which end up dominating significant portions of the tracks, as well as gorgeous, reflective ambient passages. Never as bombastic as much of 2010’s indietronica opus The Age of Adz or some of Stevens’ various other electronic works, these developments never undermine the emotional impact of these songs and indeed serve well to underscore the scale of the feelings Stevens expresses here. Crucial as well is the consistent presence of choir vocals which prevent the album from sounding quite as lonely as something like Carrie and Lowell. All these elements together ensure that Javelin is a balanced listen; never a light one, mind you, but there are plenty moments of uplifting beauty and hints of optimism. It all makes for a simply gorgeous 42 minutes, nary an unnecessary moment to be found (which cannot be said of many of Stevens’ other releases) that deserves to be known as one of Stevens’ crowning achievements. Hell, it might just be his best ever.