Review Summary: This time round Sufjan makes you work for your sweet, sticky caramel centre.
It’s been 5 years since Sufjan unleashed with adorable furor his seminal album Illinoise. While back in 2005 he may have portrayed a wide-eyed boy, brimming with wonder, excess, cheery melodies and knowledge of his home state; 2010 brings the inevitable crashing down of puberty. The excess is more excessive, and the cheery melodies are still cheery, just deeply buried under a carefully constructed pile of apocalyptic electronica.
Sufjan still has his signature orchestra and choirs, and there are moments where he reverts to the minimalist folk of Seven Swans. The bulk of the album however, is awash with IDM influence. At points it is jarring, and when combined with the thick layering of organic sounds, it sounds downright excessive, and even intimidating. However, there are beautiful melodies buried in there. Unlike the immediacy of Illinoise, this time round Sufjan makes you work for your sweet, sticky caramel centre.
But boy when you get there it is worth it. This is a carefully crafted album, and every single bleep, blip, flute trill, orchestral swell and group shout has been placed where it is for a reason.
That’s not to say that there is nothing to take away with a shallow listen to Age of Adz. The leading track Futile Devices is pure folky Sufjan, the sure-to-be-single I Walked recalls Radiohead’s Kid A on happy pills, and Vesuvius is just a damn good song. The album closes with the 26 minute Impossible Soul, a journey through Sufjan’s mind, which contains more than a few surprises (autotune?!).
Overall I don’t think this album is quite as good as Illinoise, but I must say, every time I listen to it I like it more. It unfolds with each listen. At first listen it is confusing. Second listen it is intriguing. Third and fourth, still intriguing. Fifth? If you’re lucky, it might just click. Those swiftly passing rays of sunlight you noticed when you first played the album, are now warm and comforting to bask in, and there’s nothing quite like it. I think I will stay here for a while.