Review Summary: “On Sufjan’s 7th studio effort, ‘The Age of Adz’ he goes one step further to proving that he might not even be human”
To understand the complexities of man you have to be open to mans complexities. What we achieve as people is all determined by the manner in which we exist. I am a firm believer that people who are artistic are far from those who are literary. However a time comes once in a long while when a person possesses both of these qualities. Planets align, stars collide and visionaries are born. Sufjan Stevens is the product of these astronomical events. Sufjan Stevens is a goddamn visionary and he’s ‘not ***ing around.’
On Sufjan’s new album The Age of Adz, Stevens destroys anything that would have made him any more like Elliott Smith. Gone are the banjos and soft acoustic ballads, the heavenly piano riffs and the angelic vocal lines. Taking their place are computerized drum loops, mixing samples and believe it or not even a use of auto-tune.
“It’s hard so I wont say it all and I won’t stay very long, but you are the life I needed all along.” Softly whispers Sufjan on the album opener Futile Devices, the only song on Adz reminiscent of acoustic and atypical Sufjan. It marks the departure in sound, one final farewell to the soft spoken, gentle Stevens that once was the genius behind his collection of bible stories transformed into folk ballads, Seven Swans, serenaded with intricate banjo work on every track or his 2005 effort Illinois; a 22 song epic about the quirks and perks of the state. He’s no longer singing about serial killers, UFO sightings or Abraham and while this may not be his most beautiful record, it is by far his most personal.
There have been many bands/artists to take to electronic route in their approach to music in the past. Many of them unsuccessful (see Editors’ 2009 album) and then perhaps the most famous and debated; Radiohead’s 2000 follow up to hyperbolic critically acclaimed Ok Computer when they abandoned all guitars and produced the beautiful monstrosity that was Kid A. So when Sufjan announced he would be ditching the guitars and banjos and ukuleles and would be replacing them with drum loops and manufactured samples the response was similar to that when Radiohead suggested the same thing. Those skeptics were quickly silenced when the album was released; pushing the boundaries between music and sound he stationed himself behind a mixing board and created an orchestra of synthetic music that soars with melody and rhythm in a way that hasn’t been done since Kid A. Stevens has proven himself worthy, he’s shown us that everything he touches turns to gold.
This album is by no means perfect, however it’s imperfections are just as refreshing as it’s perfections. They show that Sufjan is still human (only slightly) and is capable of making mistakes. The concept behind songs like Too Much are a little over saturated with electronica and poppy undertones, it comes across a little awkward when contrasted to Stevens’ demeanor. However he’s an artist who dares to go outside his realm of thinking and pushes boundaries, which is part of what makes him easily one of the most hardworking and talented artists in the current music world. Anyone who has heard his work with an ear for musical talent should recognize this.
Sure to be fan favorite I Want To Be Well could very well be the best song Stevens has ever written. The layering and build up is suspenseful, the harmonies are breathtaking and the lyrics more than powerful. Not to mention a side of Stevens we have not seen before emerges in this song, in 45 seconds he destroys any thought you had of him being an innocent man of God as he sings with angst “I’m not ***ing around, I’m not, I’m not” over and over. It’s powerful; it’s moving and totally unexpected.
In true Sufjan style (odd just for the sake of being odd) he closes this album with a 26-minute (that’s right, 26 minute) epic. Impossible Soul tells the story of the different stages of a suffering relationship, it’s haunting yet charming, bright yet dark and everything in between. His use of auto-tune comes into play in this song and while some of you may be biased to that term, it’s the best use of the technique since Bon Iver’s Woods.
Fans of Sufjan Stevens, new and old will appreciate his work here. It may take some getting used to not hearing the beautiful banjo noodling anymore but it’s guaranteed that with time you will at least appreciate the ideas behind this mans work, if not the music then at least his work ethic, for there is no denying that he puts himself into everything he does. When artists come around like this they move pretty fast, if you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you might miss them.
• Futile Devices
• The Age of Adz
• Now That I’m Older
• I Want To Be Well