Review: Sufjan Stevens – The Age Of Adz (2010)
In August without announcement, Sufjan Stevens gave us the, All Delighted People EP on his bandcamp website. A much exciting, hour long 8 track EP that left fans and critics breathless. This was just the tip of the iceberg, a teaser of what was to come. The last time we heard from Sufjan Stevens was in 2005 with the unforgettable album, Illinois. The album boasted songs that appeared in films and commercials alike. One can’t think of the film, Little Miss Sunshine without thinking of “Chicago”. Filled with historical references from “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” to “Casimir Pulaski Day”. Illinois was one of many in Stevens’ “Fifty States” project.
In October his highly anticipated sixth full length album, (not counting his side projects and Christmas album) The Age Of Adz was released. A far away cry from Stevens’ usual banjo, harmonica, and guitar filled singer-songwriter style. The Age Of Adz is a complex and intense filled album with electronic, synth infused beats and melodies. A tender lament, “Futile Devices” starts out the album. And Don’t say ‘I love you’/ With saying it out loud/ It’s hard so I wont say it at all/ I wont stay very long.
“Too Much” starts out with electronic beats and the album only progresses and grows from there. The title track, “The Age Of Adz” bursts in a grandiose nature from the beginning. Filled with string, electronic, and choral arrangements it flitters about. Certainly the pinnacle of the album. I wonder why he choose to put a track like this so early. But to really understand the album one needs to understand what The Age Of Adz truly stands for. Lyrically you can look at is as a Christian reference, as Stevens has in all his work. But the album is so, so much more than this one song. Towards the end of the song, Stevens slows it down to just him and his guitar, singing, For my intentions were good intentions/ I could have loved you/ I could have changed you/I wouldn’t be so/ I wouldn’t feel so consumed by selfish thoughts. It is nothing short of beautiful.
Stevens took the work of American artist and self-proclaimed prophet, Royal Roberston to inspire him. The cover art, one of Robertson’s magic marker pieces and Stevens’ lyrics are enriched with the tumultuous life of Robertson. It’s not hard to find Robertson in every single song. A schizophrenic, his wife of 19 years left him and took their 11 children with her. It’s easy for a listener to relate to “I walked” on their own personal journey. But one can’t help but think of Robertson in the lyrics, But I’ve come to explain/Why I’ve left such a mess on the floor/For when you went away I went crazy/I was wild with the breast of a dog/ I ran through the night/ With a knife in my chest/ With the lust of your loveless life. Did I mention that Robertson became obsessed with his wife after she left him?
“Now That I’m Older” starts out with and angelic chorus. Imagine, if you will a cartoon soul floating towards “the light”. It’s almost as provocative as it is beckoning the listener into the song. “Get Real Get Right” almost a sounds a little too Scientology. Spaceship out the house at night/ Prophet speak what’s on your mind/ You know you really got to get right with the Lord/ Visit the future/ Visit the future from outer space. “All For Myself” lends use to computer manipulation, which you hear more of throughout the album. The Age Of Adz is filled with Sci-Fi elements mixed into the most psychic work Stevens has done to date.
The final track, Impossible Soul plays for twenty-five minuets. At about the 9 minute mark the song could easily break off and be a different track. However, here is where Stevens uses synth and computer manipulation to transition you into a different song, within the final track. The auto-tune and computer manipulation lends almost too close to Bon Iver’s “Woods” for me. This track is the grande finale in every aspect, and Stevens wants you to know that. He takes his time, carefully lingering moments before connecting them to others. It’s easy to break the track down into five or more separate tracks, but then why would you?
Stevens has outdone himself with The Age Of Adz. The album is filled with epic orchestral sounds, chamber instruments, and choral arrangements nestled into more complicated sounds. At times an overabundance of melodic ideas and transformations take place all at once, leaving a messy sound. I must say though, that what sounds like a mess at times is so cleverly well composed that it takes several detailed listens to recognize the true beauty.
Stevens has traded his usual calm, singer-songwriter ways to that more relative to the sound of Animal Collective or Dan Deacon. Then when you reach minute twenty-three of the final song, he takes you back to a more simplistic Sufjan sound. Here the banjo and guitars provide a wave like feeling to the song and Stevens reminds you why you fell in love with him in the first place.