Sufjan Stevens is known for peppering his songs with bibilical allusions and historical references—some obvious, some not so much. Although his latest album, an exploration of grief titled Carrie & Lowell, is lighter on the references than his other records, that’s not saying much: There’s still at least one obscure mention to Greek mythology, the Bible, or Oregon–where Stevens spent some summers with his late mother, the subject of the album—in almost every track.
To make the listening experience less confusing, here’s a brief glossary of the proper nouns Stevens sings about on Carrie & Lowell.
“Should Have Known Better”
Lyric: “Rose of Aaron’s beard, where you can reach me”
Background: Aaron’s Beard is a name for the Hypericum calycinum plant known for its yellow flowers. This lyric could also be referring to Aaron Rose, a filmmaker and artist from Oregon. (Or the Gossip Girl character.)
“All of Me Wants All of You”
Lyric: “Found myself on Spencer’s Butte”
Background: Spencer Butte is the highest point in Eugene, Ore.
“Drawn to the Blood”
Lyric: “Delilah, avenge my grief”
Background: Samson’s power was in his hair, but Delilah cut it all off one night. See also: Regina Spektor’s “Samson.” Or Stevens could be referring to radio legend and advice extraordinaire Delilah—but that seems unlikely. (No offense, Delilah.)
Lyric: “How? God of Elijah”
Background: Elijah is a prophet known for his unwavering loyalty to God and for going to heaven in a fiery chariot.
“Fourth of July”
Lyric: “Tell me, what did you learn from the Tillamook Burn”
Background: The Tillamook Burn was the name for a chain of forest fires that struck Oregon’s Tillamook State Forest from 1933 to 1951, resulting in miles of destruction.
“The Only Thing”
Lyric: “Signs and wonders, Perseus aligned with the skull / Slain Medusa, Pegasus alight from us all”
Background: Perseus is a celebrated hero in Greek mythology who beheaded Medusa, a monster with snakes for hair. According to some stories, Pegasus—the child of Poseidon and Medusa—came out of Medusa as Perseus killed her.
“Carrie & Lowell”
Lyric: “I will bow down (Dido’s Lament)”
Lyric: “Carrie surprised us / Erebus on my back”
Background: Erebus is the name of a deity representing darkness, and also a region in the Underworld where the deceased go right after dying.
Lyric: “Carrie come home (Thorazine’s friend)”
Background: Thorazine is an antipsychotic medication used to treat mental disorders including schizophrenia, which Carrie suffered from.
“John My Beloved”
Lyric: “Icarus, point to the sun”
Background: Icarus’ father gifted him wings made of wax with the warning to avoid flying close to the sun, as the heat would melt them. Icarus disobeyed his father’s orders, of course, and he died.
“Blue Bucket of Gold”
Lyric: “My blue bucket of gold”
Background: Oregon myth has it that pioneers in the 1800s stumbled on some pebbles that they initially thought were copper—only to find out years later that what they found was actually gold. By that time, they’d forgotten where they found the gold, and the location still remains a mystery.
Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell is available now.