Review Summary: Maybe it’s because we’ve become so used to Sufjan Stevens as folkster king that The Age of Adz strikes us as odd, but what’s more striking is that he’s stepped ever so slightly out of his comfort zone.
For those of you expecting a trip-hop reimagining of Stevens’ masterpiece Illinois, well… sorry, but haters to the left.
For the rest of you who were thinking of something along the lines of Seven Swans but with C-3P0 as a backing band, then congratulations; you perfectly described Sufjan’s newest album, the somewhat overstuffed but nevertheless fantastic Age of Adz
Largely inspired by visual artist and schizophrenic Royal Robertson, Age of Adz
features lush arrangements, gorgeous melodies, and lyrics that are as maddeningly cryptic as they are well-sung. Expecting anything different would be a crime; this is a record by the modern king of indie-folk. But where Illinois
were made with full orchestras and a whole chorus, Adz
finds Sufjan in a bit of a solitary situation. The arrangements are lush, but clearly synthesized. The backing chorus often simply “aahs”, giving it a synthetic sheen as well. The lyrics all center on one object of fixation, a girlfriend, maybe, but Stevens seems to be pining from a distance. Maybe all the solitude and reflection has left Sufjan alone with synthesizers and his thoughts? We’ll never know; he isn’t exactly known for direct clarity, preferring oblique lyrics that mean so little
at face value that they just have
to have some higher significance. And they do, unless they actually don’t
and Stevens is just toying with his listeners. He’s been a masterful bait-and-switcher before, sort of an Art Troll but with cult albums to back it up, and he develops this reputation maddeningly further.
But meta discussion about an album falls flat if the music itself is mediocre or worse. Thankfully, Sufjan delivers. Despite some of the beat sequencing coming across as obnoxious (as opposed to simply being endearingly bleepy), The Age of Adz
still has monumental high points like the title track and achingly beautiful moments like "Vesuvius" that rival “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!” in terms of hearts broken per minute.
So at the end of the day, despite this seeming an enormous departure for dear old Sufjy on the surface, this is exactly the kind of record he’d make. It’s him coming full circle without ever really going
anywhere. Maybe it’s because we’ve become so used to the folkster king that The Age of Adz
strikes us as odd, but what’s more striking (and more important) is that he’s stepped ever so slightly out of his comfort zone. That little shift makes all the difference, even if the real differences are few and far between.