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Here’s the deal: Sputnikresident Keelan’s review of Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz is really fucking good. I mean like, really, really fucking good. So much so that I had to write something back at him. But before that I really need to point out that Keelan is the most profound writer on this site, someone who actually takes the time to think through what he’s writing before spilling his digital ink, and anyone else looking to figure out how to do this whole writing reviews thing should read his stuff. Secondly, this is also a roundabout response (not quite review!) to The Age of Adz itself, which is probably one of this years most bewildering records, which, for better or worse, I’d like to share some thoughts on. So with the stream of consciousness button firmly pressed down into my head, let’s keep going!

Let me get this out of the way: The Age of Adz is the mirror image reversal of M.I.A’s /\/\/\Y/\. Calm down. Now, I like /\/\/\Y/\. I wrote an over the top review saying as much. I don’t like The Age Of Adz. Let me flesh this out – Perhaps the most striking resemblance between /\/\/\Y/\ and The Age of Adz is their sheer reliance on affect, with the barest minimum tying it all together: Melodies and sounds will sweep in out of nowhere; for Sufjan, this means fleeting strings and choral lines; for M.I.A. this means glitchy spasms of synth squelches and strategic injections of noise. For both, every song functions as a sort of whirlwind, twisting and turning trying to get out of itself, creeping towards lines of flight which no structure affords them. We’re talking disjointedness and disparity, with each artist reflecting something (as Keelan put it) severely screwed up.

This is of course where the artist comparison falls down a flight of stairs, because even if you were to give that minimal similarity any ounce of credit, it’s pretty obvious that /\/\/\Y/\ and The Age of Adz are so far flung apart that they practically talk in different languages. Sufjan, as everybody knows, speaks the language of beauty – he’s a painter, magical and dazzling, and having disconnected himself from the folky resonances found on his earlier albums, The Age Of Adz floats free, warbling in a freefall of Stevens’ most ambitious work yet. M.I.A on the other hand, speak the language of violence, her music rips and tears, it’s Piss Christ and the all the rest of the Abject rolled into one, angry, stalking, stopping only to celebrate the sheer stylistic force of it all.

Now, I’m not sure Keelan would agree. He takes Stevens at his word, agreeing that the man isn’t fucking around, and finding The Age of Adz ripened by its therapeutic qualities. Myself on the other hand, well to be blunt, I think Stevens is a fucking liar. If Ulysses and The Wasteland marked a struggle for meaning, The Age of Adz is nothing less than an ironic piss take of that modernist confusion, laughing joyously all the way. Back in second year, we had a word for that sort of thing: (I’m going to risk it) the postmodern (I risked it). So oh yes Keelan, it exists. Right here. What allows Stevens to get away with it is the fact that he’s got a hell of a poker face. I mean, he’s really damn good. So good that he can wear that irony like a drag costume, and it still goes unnoticed.

Or, to put it differently, Sufjan Stevens is a troll. Which is why I find The Age of Adz so goddamn exasperating, as if he comes as close as possible to creating a serious work of art, in order to just miss it. And let me make one thing quite clear: it takes a certain kind of brilliance to do that. Sufjan Stevens brilliance. As far as it goes musically, it’s a hell of a feat: the immaculate arrangements, precise and shimmering, an electronic and acoustic all-in wonder. But I can’t shake this feeling that I’m being fucked with. And I don’t like it.  Successful troll is successful, I think the term goes.

And where does this leave M.I.A? Well, I’ll admit the line becomes fuzzy, and it’s just as easy to flip the equation and pin everything I’ve accused Stevens of on to M.I.A. Which might be fair. But I can’t shake this feeling that she isn’t fucking with me. The point is, I think, that although both albums are filled to the brim with runaway sounds, it’s /\/\/\Y/\ that ends up running away somewhere, even if it’s only an anti-place, and makes for itself a statement of intent along the way. The Age Of Adz, well, it goes places, all sorts of wonderful places, but arrives at none of them; a toothless tiger, for all it’s stripes.

Alex Silveri, Oct 2010





StreetlightRock
10.02.10
Images took me longer than actaully writing all that.

fromtheinside
10.02.10
a weird comparison that i definitely did not see coming with your blog. loved this but it doesn't make my love Steven's anymore who i find overtly pretentious.

qwe3
10.02.10
mia is hot

Calculate
10.02.10
the fuck are you talking about

bailar14
10.02.10
yhu crzy mang

*pos

Liberi Fatali
10.02.10
Who is this Keelan fellow? Guess I should check out some of his reviews then!

bailar14
10.02.10
omg daniel incognito! it really is!

DaveyBoy
10.02.10
I have no idea what this blog was about, but I found it oddly captibating. Typical Silveri really.

bailar14
10.02.10
im captibating right now.

DaveyBoy
10.02.10
Hehe. Ooops. V

SeaAnemone
10.02.10
Keelan fan club? Count me in.

Gyromania
10.02.10
This was a really great read, and further more I completely understand what you mean when you say that Stevens' new album comes off as him fucking with us, but I don't see that as a detractor from how good the music is. I never would have drawn the parallel between M.I.A. and Sufjan, but it makes sense in context, and I agree that in the end she does what she does extremely well. It's a shame that people didn't think too highly of her latest release :/

thebhoy
10.02.10
well now, look at me. I'm flattered, really. I do like your comparisons to MIA actually, I think they make sense for what you pointed out. Also, I think you underestimate the self awareness of the modernists. Keep in mind that in A Vision Yeats goes through this whole spiel about finding a deity in a forest somewhere in Asia or something, then he describes it in great detail and adds a picture-- and it's a picture of himself. But I do see what you mean, and I do agree to an extent, I was merely using the idea for my review.

LeRequiem
10.02.10
''Ce n’est pas une la revue de'' means nothing. It should be ''Ceci n'est pas une CRITIQUE de''. (''revue'' = magazine)

StreetlightRock
10.02.10
Godammit I even asked my friend who speaks French! Not well enough apparently, haha, Thanks! Honestly I'm just glad Gyro and Keelan got me through my haze of spat out writing. This is also vaguely tongue in cheek =)

Knott-
10.02.10
Hahaha, I was gonna say something about the title but didn't know if it was intentional!

Personally can't see myself ever writing about music as part of a broader 'movement' but I guess I'm just not cultured or something.

StreetlightRock
10.02.10
Haha, just assume the next time I post anything in French (never) I have no idea what I'm talking about. I love talking about music and culture.

Electric City
10.02.10
godammit all this talk of age of adz is getting in the way of MY review

Electric City
10.02.10
but keelan's review is unbelievably terrific, it had to be said, and silveri, you know i love you

STOP SHOUTING!
10.02.10
great stuff silveri. u can't go wrong referencing the waste land and ulysses.

BrahTheSunGod
10.02.10
In honor of Adam's recent post on proofreading...

"sheer reliance on affects"

*effects

StreetlightRock
10.02.10
Actually no, in this context I actaully mean affects as in individual artifacts.

StreetlightRock
10.02.10
Although I should make that singular instead of plural

Skimaskcheck
10.03.10
wow, just read the review, you're right, really awesome - great job thebhoy

BrahTheSunGod
10.04.10
Ahhh, AFF-ect. My bad, I see what you mean now. Thought you were referring to effects (as in, sound effects). I clearly should not have doubted your wisdom ;)

Gyromania
10.04.10
lol^

StreetlightRock
10.04.10
=D

SweeneyAgonistes
10.13.10
Just some commentary as an afficianado of the modernists: 1) "The Waste Land" (which I am currently butchering with quotation marks instead of the underlining or italicizing that a long work properly deserves due to formatting issues) is titled as a non-compound word, id est: "The Waste Land", not "The Wasteland"; 2) While T. S. Eilot was indeed struggling to "make the fragments cohere" and derive meaning of a modern world seemingly devoid of significance, trajectory, vitality, or humanity, he was accused by critics at the time of the publication of "The Waste Land" of some of the very things you accuse Sufjan Stevens—namely disingenuousness. Years after its publication, Eliot himself compared "The Waste Land" to (I believe the quote is) "lyrical grumbling", downplaying the significance of his most well-known poem almost comically. Eliot was known for his skilled use of narrative voice in the form of poetic soliloquy, monologue, dialogue, and the creative invention of montage using disjointed and abrupt transitions between narrative voices. Eliot was also the son of East Coast money who attended Harvard and expatriated to become a Crown Subject; he was exceedingly privileged yet oftentimes wrote in the narrative voice of the destitute and working class. To this day, literary critics and researchers debate as to whether Eliot really had the license to be making use of such narrative voice and whether or not (regardless of his literarily effective use of it) he accurately represented the people whose voices he appropriated and mimicked. So really, the Sufjan Stevens-T. S. Eliot comparison stands a deeper analysis as opposed to the brief send-off you pay it. One of the most striking aspects of "The Age Of Adz" to me is that I feel I have reacted to listening to "Impossible Soul" in a very similar manner to which I first reacted upon reading "The Waste Land"—"Impossible Soul" is more a challenge to me, a problem, a complex in need of unpacking and interpretation and contextualizing and cross-referencing in the same manner that "The Waste Land" was less a poem and more a reflective experience and exercise in academic rigueur, which leads to; 3) I'm still not SURE that I like "The Age Of Adz", but I'm very enthusiastic about it—but then again, I'm still not sure that I like "The Waste Land", and T. S. Eliot has become the focus of my graduate research, and I've been reading and rereading him obsessively for years now. Whatever can be said of their work otherwise, both Stevens and Eliot are masters of their craft, and that cannot be denied.

Electric City
10.13.10
whoa there

StreetlightRock
10.14.10
Haha, I'm not sure how to respond other than to say thank you.

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