It's remarkable now, to me at least, how amazingly familiar and yet harder hitting "Futile Devices" is than the bulk of folk-y compositions that plagued the underwhelming and at times lifeless Illinoise
. It's remarkable because the seemingly out of place first song on the wildly modern and out-of-its-own-skin The Age Of Adz
could have fit in anywhere on Illinoise
and quite easily been the best track on the album. But instead "Futile Devices" works as an introduction to this new world of Sufjan Stevens, a heartfelt goodbye to the past and a lead in to The Age Of Adz
where Stevens finally loses his mind through waves of electronic confusion and serenaded drops of acoustic guitar, something he has been hinting at throughout his career. It's no doubt his most accomplished work to date, an album that feels like the most honest work of his, as Stevens attempts to find comfort in knowing that he's completely lost.
And it's quite beautiful in a way, looking at being completely and utterly lost as not a burden but a freeing of the mind. One could say what Stevens has achieved here is enlightenment, where one loses his sense of self as he is submerged by the world around him, perception being thrown carelessly out the window. Throughout The Age Of Adz
it seems as though Stevens knows the perils of being out on the fringe of sanity, yet revels in it as a sort of revolution. The title track is a glorious and triumphant composition of lasers and rushes of noise as Stevens states that "this is the age of adz / eternal living"
in a way that sounds celebratory, a release of any fear Stevens may have. As crazy and all over the place the sounds are at times, it all comes together as a complete track whch is a testament to Stevens as a composer. There are quite a few tracks on here that seem like they could be weightless and sporadic, yet Stevens keeps the songs coherent and down at ground level by being a great songwriter; "I Walked" is a quiet piece that uses spastic beats and wonderous synths and a swaying Stevens; "Get Real Get Right" is a dense and trippy voyage through fluttering intruments; "I Want To Be Well" has arguably the climax of the album as Stevens, if only for a moment, drops all the craziness for just him and an acoustic guitar as he repeates "I want to be well / I want to be well"
in a truly honest outreach.
And then there's "Impossible Soul", a 25 minute closing track that's as beautiful and unbelievable as it is pointless and self-indulgent. The track is astonishingly well constructed and fluid for its running time and ventures into auto-tune freak outs and electric seizures, but truthfully doesn't hold enough power or memorable moments to warrant such an ending (even if the quiet, pulsing beginning is quite lovely). It's arguably a summation of The Age Of Adz
; a borderline insane recording that is at times beautiful, honest, and pointless. As ambitious as this album is, I can't help but feel that this could have been so much more refined.