ALBUM REVIEW: Sufjan Stevens – The Age Of Adz
If you’ve heard anything that Sufjan Stevens has done before, The Age Of Adz, is not going to surprise. He’s probably one of the most prolific artists of the last decade with a back catalogue so deliciously impeccable and full almost to the brim with his signature style of music. Even from the beginning with the sullen “Futile Devices”, Sufjan’s simply divine guitar parts set the tone that this IS a Sufjan Stevens album. Now, I’m not saying it’s anything bad at all, because the music as ever, is incredible. It’s full of similar orchestral beauties as prior work, even with the influx of electronic-glitch sampling as evidenced on the second track “Too Much”.
This second track in particular makes me hark back to his 2009 piece, The BQE, a fantastic and astounding instrumental composition spread across 40 minutes, inspired by The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. It’s 4th Movement, Traffic Shock also featured glitch like electronic sounds, although composed harmoniously. I can’t help but feel that Age of Adz is a little bit of a rehash of Stevens’ prior work. There are of course deviations and possibly new ideas, again, like his previous work this album is interesting and the songs are good! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy this album, by the time the title track gets to it’s very much choric chorus, you reach such a crescendo of music and voice that it’s impossible not to enjoy it. Being a master of suspenseful build up, this third track in particular sounds so great, just loving and more importantly personal.
Of course the whole notion of more personal lyrics and subject matter in these songs is arguably a new idea, that I agree, has made a noticeable sense in his singing. With his prior albums that have focused on amongst other things, states themselves, you could say that Age of Adz is more insightful to the man behind the music and especially of note is the use of the word ‘lover’ which not only opens the song “I Walked” but is frequent amongst other songs. That song is one filled with sadness and what could be regret, reminiscent of “Casimir Pulaski Day” from Illinois. It’s a tone that does seem to encompass a large portion of the album and you can help but feel that Sufjan himself has gone through some kind of strong personal trauma. Maybe his seeming de-attachment from the music industry and questioning of the consumption of music that he was displaying last year? Who knows?
Easily the best song from the album is “Get Real, Get Right” which, unlike others seems to display a positivity in the lyrics and the music. This may be in the aloof tone that the song could arguably be taking, in regards to his faith, but it’s nature in coming forth to the listener about halfway through the album is again, most divine. I’m not religious, neither will the overt-religious overtones make me a believer, but there is something about the song that perseveres with it’s message and has some kind of illuminating tone that makes me happy, that is in itself positive.
“Vesuvius” is another highlight, a kind of song that trudges forward, with Stevens utilising a strong choir that make the lyrics take on some kind of hymn-like element, set against the backdrop of the downbeat and beautiful music. There is also the uplifting, Illinois remembrance in “I Want To Be Well” with it’s soothing pipes against the crescendo of building noise. The chorus for the song has a brief lull in the noise, Sufjan’s repetition of the song’s title, before the eventual vocal layering of “I’m fucking around,” sets a kind of sombre note, juxtaposed with that nonchalant and non-directed energy, in fucking around. The cries and the sounds of clashing cymbals all set a conflicted portrait of Sufjan, a man divided with the titular chorus, repeated, but hidden beneath everything else as the song draws to a close.
But the album leaves it’s most epic, a word I use quite literally here, moment to it’s conclusion with the song “Impossible Soul” which clocks up a notable 25 minutes. Already known for long song times, you definitely get the sense that Sufjan has gone all out, not compromising a very artistic direction with this album or what he wants to say with his music. The length is irrespective, and much of the album as usual sounds like a continuous work. “Impossible Soul” proves that further with something that you can’t help but feel could have been divided into separate songs, especially the use of autotune. Not to take away from it of course, because it is a brilliant, if lengthy, closing chapter to the album.
If you are expecting something boldly different or new from Sufjan, you won’t be pleased, but however, if you want more of the same, with a twist (autotune) and some slight deviations, you’ll be very pleased. The Age of Adz is a brilliant album, but it isn’t one that breaks any boundaries, it’s more like a summary, a bringing together of different elements from more recently released material like The BQEand stuff from beforehand, like Illinois & Michigan.