Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz


3.5
great

Review

by Conrad Tao EMERITUS
September 27th, 2010 | 194 replies


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Sufjan Stevens is not fucking around.

I sometimes wonder how self-aware Sufjan Stevens is. What with the vague, ominous statements that he “no longer has faith in the album or the song,” his dismissal of the 50 States Project as “such a joke,” and his tongue-in-cheek release of All Delighted People last month - It’s 60 minutes long! It’s an EP! - one can’t help but wonder how much of it is him poking fun at his often-aggravating fanbase (seriously, guys, he’s not a fucking deity.) Admittedly, self-consciousness is a hallmark of indie culture, but for Sufjan it’s a bit of a curio - after all, the hallowed Illinois succeeded partly because of its unpretentiousness. So you can understand my interest (and worry) upon reading the official press release Sufjan's first proper full-length in five years. “Obsession with cosmic fantasies”? Arf.

And now, the wait is over. The Age of Adz is here, and it's weird. Very weird. So weird that it's nigh impossible to describe. Not that Sufjan has ever exactly regarded convention, but The Age of Adz is just straight-up bizarre. You thought "The Owl and the Tanager" was hard to make sense of? Wait till you get ahold of these lyrically dense monsters. And the irony is that upon first glance, this album is Sufjan's most conventional release. Gone are the short transitional tracks and ridiculous song titles. On the surface, The Age of Adz is a typical LP. But these songs are anything but ordinary.

Several of these songs have made appearances at live shows over the past couple of years, but they've all been significantly tweaked, with a substantial amount of ProTools knob-twiddling layered on top. At times, the album resembles a Boredoms album, so disorienting (and, at times, unwelcome) are the digital squawks and shrieks peppering songs like "Too Much" and "Vesuvius". But if The Age of Adz is sometimes buried in indulgent production, the music still resonates. Gorgeous melodies abound - "All For Myself" and "Now That I'm Older" are worthy successors to Illinois's heartbreaking "The Seer's Tower" - and the arrangements are as intricate as ever. "Too Much" is a big sonic mess, but when achingly beautiful strings and brass penetrate the laser-fire soundscape, it's like a ray of sun peeking in through the clouds.

And then there's "Impossible Soul", the album's 26-minute closer. It's more side B of Abbey Road than Ys, what with its fragmented structure and eclectic sound. The song (if we can even call it that) starts quietly, with pulsating synths, piano chords, and harp flourishes, then launches into a (thankfully) jangly guitar solo, before taking a few more left turns, and then, suddenly, we're in a brand new place. Sure, there are a few lyrical threads holding the track together, namely the line "it's not so impossible," but "Impossible Soul" is best appreciated as a collage more than anything else. The head-scratching moments are plentiful and seem at times like a conscious attempt to throw the listener off - look, Sufjan's using AutoTune! - but it's the juxtaposition of these "is he fucking with us" moments with the stuff we've come to expect from Sufjan that ultimately makes the track a success. Even when it's inexplicable, it's utterly compelling.

Which, in the end, is pretty much how The Age of Adz feels as a whole. Somehow, despite the electronics that resemble baby’s first MacBook experiments, despite the unnecessary swaths of noise, despite the complete messiness of it all, it works. Is it the idiosyncrasies? The melodies? The interplay between the synthetic percussion and live instruments? Sufjan's willfully emotive voice? All of the above? Who knows? And honestly, who gives a shit? The Age of Adz works even though it shouldn't, the same of which could be said for Illinois. Hmm. Maybe this isn't such a departure for Sufjan after all.



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user ratings (897)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
conradtao
Emeritus
September 27th 2010


2090 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

In case you've been living under a rock, streaming here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130049247

robin
Emeritus
September 27th 2010


4248 Comments


i like the bits where he plays the flutes

NeutralThunder12
September 27th 2010


8742 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

as the biggest fanboy of Illinoise on the site, Im eager to hear this. hated the single though. gonna check out that stream.......this was a fantastic review by the way pos pos pos pos pos

CelestialDust
September 27th 2010


3155 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

rating distribution is odd
i'd finish listening to this but that would mean i'd have to stop listening to halcyon digest

igloodude
September 27th 2010


398 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Awesome review, dude. Pos.

SeaAnemone
September 27th 2010


20322 Comments


this review is fantastic, great job

Digging: Holy Sons - Lost Decade II

Enotron
September 27th 2010


7695 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

can't wait to hear this for some reason

idk i like polarizing works

conradtao
Emeritus
September 27th 2010


2090 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

thanks guys. this album is really fucking weird and I wanted to get this review out of my system before I leave town (and consequently the Internet) for a week

tuneskies
September 27th 2010


6 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is a gorgeous album. September always delivers.

DoubtGin
September 27th 2010


6752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

album rules.. close to a 4.5

Slipping Away
September 27th 2010


1261 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

listened to this a couple days ago, I though it was pretty great

crazyblinddude
September 27th 2010


3389 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Will give it a listen. Nice review.

thebhoy
Emeritus
September 27th 2010


4461 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I will be reviewing this even though it will be totally unnecessary, something about is just driving me to write something and when that happens I can't ignore it.

robin
Emeritus
September 27th 2010


4248 Comments


what do you think of it?

thebhoy
Emeritus
September 27th 2010


4461 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I still have to slug through this closer. At the moment I feel it tapers of near the end, but the more I listen to this the more I love it.

conradtao
Emeritus
September 27th 2010


2090 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

anybody else think Sufjan is trolling with that closer? I mean, the beginning of it is gorgeous but that autotune section is legitimately terrible, and then it ends with a really beautiful bit that is like a reward for those who slog all the way through..

DoubtGin
September 27th 2010


6752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

auto-tune part reminds me of Daft Punk somehow

CelestialDust
September 27th 2010


3155 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

oh i'm seven minutes into the closer, listening for the first time, i just noticed the 25:35 length next to the track. sufjan you fucking shittiing me?

Enotron
September 27th 2010


7695 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

chill cassandra gemini is 32 minutes and its mad easy to get through

JWT155
September 27th 2010


9260 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thought the title of the album at first was "The Age of Aidz".

Digging: Death From Above 1979 - The Physical World



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