Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz


5.0
classic

Review

by robin EMERITUS
October 6th, 2010 | 41 replies


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: paranoia, and stuff.

“I lost my mind,
I lost my life,
I lost my job,
I lost my wife.”

Sufjan Stevens has written about this kind of thing before. He’s written about disillusion. He’s written for downtrodden towns and downtrodden people, and, most importantly, he’s written about what- who- they’ve lost. And maybe that’s why I find Michigan so absorbing. It’s not about the state, it’s about who lives in the state; the kid who sees his family crumble in “Romulus,” the desperate worshiper in “Oh God, Where Are You Now?” and, of course, the guy who ends up with nothing- not a friend in the world- in “The Upper Peninsula.” He doesn’t know who he is anymore, and it’s moments like this that make us realise this Michigan postcard isn’t as rosy as we’d have it be- maybe it isn’t a postcard at all. This is Sufjan Stevens at his best; a realist rather than an idealist, a man who writes about losing alongside winning. To borrow once more from our lost man: “I’ve seen my wife / at the K-mart / In strange ideas / we live apart.” Seven years on, The Age of Adz maps this lost man. No, not in Michigan, we’re done with geography and concept, but rather in name. He never had one before, but now it’s Sufjan. Our comic-strip hero has come to life, and the synthesizers he plays are his way of turning the pages.

The Age of Adz will shed light for every Sufjan fan who wanted to know what exactly about their favourite album was “gimmicky.” It will explain why Sufjan no longer believes in “the song” because, ultimately, it is him giving up on the song and making it his song. I get it now; no matter how personal Michigan (or, for those of you frowning at me, Illinois) was, it wasn’t about its composer. It was simply by him. And the more I look at “The Upper Peninsula” the more I see it as a character-piece, no less important for being someone else’s story but explicitly not Sufjan Stevens'. And The Age of Adz is right to be glitchy, spontaneous and freaky; it’s Sufjan transforming into that character. Throughout the album he battles insecurity, love, and above all, himself. He goes crazy just thinking about it, to the point where the only person he can talk to is himself (“Sufjan / follow the path / it leads to an article of imminent death”).

And so we have The Age of Adz, a musically polarizing record that isn’t about the ‘shock factor’ the cynics will say it is; the twenty five minute electro-pop anthem/ballad/hip-hop mix makes sense and the auto tune is even more necessary. This isn’t Sufjan’s ‘*** you’, it’s Sufjan realising that he doesn’t know a thing. Oh, except one thing- the song. He’s always called it his greatest strength, and he’s right: this chaotic mess is kept together in a gorgeous pop package. “Too Much” clings on to itself with irresistible choruses before exploding into something just as hopeless as its lyrics (“there’s too much riding on that / there’s too much, too much, too much love”). “The Age of Adz” is Sufjan realising that he’s become Royal Robertson, the abandoned outsider artist the album supposedly revolves around. It’s a gorgeous composition in spite of its desperation, with the electronics played out in unison to the orchestration- this is perhaps the greatest strength of Sufjan’s song on The Age of Adz- being lost doesn’t mean abandoning everything he once knew, and the baroque pop still fills the album in its many corners. The arrangements on every track here are thriving and huge, always strung together perfectly even when Sufjan sounds fit to explode. No, this isn't a publicity stunt. This isn't new wave Stevens. There’s so much to The Age of Adz- trivial things like the dissonant guitar riffing in “Impossible Soul”- that makes it impossible to think Sufjan is alienating us. He's pleading with us.

“Impossible Soul” is, of course, the talking point of Sufjan’s 2010. Its shifts are dramatic and irrational, but it will still come across to fans as one song rather than five. That’s a big deal, considering this song shifts from disco dancing to acoustic guitar at the click of a finger. But “Impossible Soul,” whether you see it in fragments or as a whole, illuminates The Age of Adz all by itself; it moves from love lost to heartbreaking paranoia, and then from a bouncing lust for life to a resignation of loneliness; “we can do much more together” becomes, with the album’s last gasp, “we made such a mess together.” And the music is just a window on Sufjan’s mind; it is eccentric when he is eccentric, it is panicky when he panics, it is sombre when he is sombre. As for the concept, Royal Robertson is merely a pseudonym; The Age of Adz is written by a mad man, yes, but it is an album in which that mad man realises himself. And he relates it to his music because it is the only thing he knows anymore; why he went crazy, love (“I Walked”) and that he went crazy. Nothing about the state of Ohio and nothing about gospel stories. He knows nothing but madness.

Oh, and the song. That's a dangerous mix. Tim Kasher knows.



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user ratings (918)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
pizzamachine
October 6th 2010


12572 Comments


Does everyone love this album or something.

Athom
Staff Reviewer
October 6th 2010


17230 Comments


what the fuck, man. what. the. fuck.

plane
Staff Reviewer
October 6th 2010


6099 Comments


Maybe I'll check it out. But it sounds like Sufjan is the new Kevin Barnes and that's no good

robin
Emeritus
October 6th 2010


4261 Comments


we all know i give everything 5s and no one agrees so just go with it people =(

Athom
Staff Reviewer
October 6th 2010


17230 Comments


this is getting fucking ridiculous.

Enotron
October 6th 2010


7695 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

luv you robin

crank
October 6th 2010


332 Comments


This is a pretty great review

SeaAnemone
October 6th 2010


20945 Comments


everyone appointed as a staff or contributor has to write a 5 review for this, or else

Digging: Viet Cong - Viet Cong

Ire
October 6th 2010


41829 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

holy shit i guess i need this

foreverendeared
October 6th 2010


14678 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

awesome review Robin. I don't think this will ever be a five for me, but I've only listened to it about 5 times

NeutralThunder12
October 6th 2010


8742 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

enough its not cool any more

it would be cool if it was for Illinoise though

Romulus
October 6th 2010


8447 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

in all honestly i don't want to start an argument or anything but regardless of the quality of the album i think three people posting a classic review for it within a few weeks or so of listening is a little much.

maybe i'd think different if i enjoyed it more though so i don't really know.

crank
October 6th 2010


332 Comments


I don't get your gripe / problem / whatever

thebhoy
Emeritus
October 6th 2010


4461 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

well based on that Romulus, no new album should ever be heralded as more than really good by any critic.

Romulus
October 6th 2010


8447 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

you have a solid point, but i've never thought of an album as a classic within such a short time of hearing it. i have to see how it'll pass the test of time you know? for one reviewer to forgo that is fine, but three just seems weird to me.

but again, this might just come down to personal definitions and i probably wouldn't be complaining if i had this at a 4.5 or something.

Athom
Staff Reviewer
October 6th 2010


17230 Comments


its the influx of reviews with the same rating. if you all held off a bit between each one it wouldn't be like i was being pounded in the head with 5's for this.

klap
Staff Reviewer
October 6th 2010


10577 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

isn't the whole point of classic to meanthat it stands the test of time? The highest I give an album on release is a 4.5 and after a year if it's still just as good I'll bump it. Having said that this review rules...i guess I'll listen

Digging: Charli XCX - Sucker

Bitchfork
October 6th 2010


7584 Comments


This album is just so fucking terrible.

thebhoy
Emeritus
October 6th 2010


4461 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Do we still put stock in the whole "classic" status of a 5? I don't know, I don't take these ratings as anything more than your typical critical scale. I mean, if we did it on a 10.0 scale like pitchfork, I would put more consideration before I gave a perfect score, and even then it would raise the same arguments. But on a hlaf increment scale to 5, it's hard to justify some albums being at the same 4.5 rating when they aren't.

foreverendeared
October 6th 2010


14678 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

very good point



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