Sufjan Stevens – Age of Adz Sufjan Stevens – Age of Adz

After giving up his overly ambitious task of creating an EP for every state in the United States, Sufjan Stevens looks within himself for inspiration on Age of Adz.  Sufjan has not abandoned a concept album and his new work focuses on the life of Royal Robertson, “a black Louisiana-based sign-maker (and self-proclaimed prophet) who suffered from schizophrenia, and whose work depicts the artist’s vivid dreams and visions”. Stevens previously opted for a cutesy storytelling approach and Age of Adz marks a sharp change into “the mire of loneliness, self-doubt, or panic, while his body urges for the ordinary touch of a lover, a brother, or a friend.”

I have to admit; I was scared when I first heard Stevens was going to follow a more electronic route to his new album.  Up until now, he represented the idea that quality music need not fall victim to the 4/4 dance beat sweeping the Top 40 list.  His alternative style mixed with string sections was a staple for Stevens’ previous albums and switching to inward focus could be the reason for such a stylistic change.  Age of Adz heavily leans on electronic influences but his creation is far from robotic.  Each song continues to arise emotion from the listener and songs are even more vulnerable and personable.  Inspiration comes from within Stevens and he can’t count on themes of states to hide his true feelings this time.  Everything is inherently Stevens and he’s confident to say what is on his mind.  Previous albums had him meekly whispering personified stories to us.  This time around, Stevens knows what he wants to say and isn’t afraid to tell us with the help of dark bass and loud lyrics. Many traditional instruments have been left to the wayside in favor of synths but the music is still Stevens despite the change in sound.  Stevens’ work always walked the fine line of grandeur but never spilled over into the realm of elitism.

The start of Age of Adz begins with a somewhat familiar Stevens sound with wispy lyrics and gentle guitar plucking in Futile Devices and quickly moves to pop-electro with the second song, Too Much. The title song ties old and new Stevens together by marrying traditional immensity with an indiscernible amount of synth and drum machines.  Get Real Get Right pulses forward during the vocal sections with ghostly dimensions to create a hauntingly beautiful and dream-like atmosphere.
I Want to Be Well starts off with an elementary drum machine loop mixed with an energetic wind section.  It slowly builds while layers fall perfectly into place, seamlessly transitioning into bubbling electronica.  Presumably a song about suicide, “I’ll find sleep I’ll find peace/Or in death you’ll sleep with me,” the climax becomes powerful when Stevens shouts “I’m not fucking around” multiple times.  Such and extensive use of swearing has never been part of Stevens’ past work and its inclusion suggests true meaning behind the words.  Is this his way of legitimizing the threat or perhaps part of the schizophrenic attitude Stevens has borrowed from Robertson, the album’s inspiration?  Stevens is not afraid to try techniques that would typically be disastrous in his alternative genre.  When I heard Impossible Soul, the epic 25-minute final song included auto-tune; I was skeptical of the end result.  Stevens surprised me once again by somehow finding a way to make a T-Pain technique meaningful.  Impossible Soul includes everything from screeching guitars to sing-along anthems in its four-part progression.  It’s dark and full of loneliness as Stevens longs for meaningful human interaction and finally falls back to his traditional quiet plucking guitar to end on a hopeful note.

Age of Adz clearly represents a new Stevens.  He is grown up and opts for foreboding and moody electronic while still producing a concept album.  Purist fans have made a huge deal over the stylistic change but after the first few tracks, you hardly recognize the change.  Stevens is out of his comfort zone and wants the listener to be in the same place to fully understand the plight of Royal Robertson and his views of unrelenting human emotion.  Some will look backwards and wish for the simpler days of playful banjo picking while other listeners will embrace the honest lyrics and moody sound-scape Stevens has masterfully crafted.  Since the album is rooted in tension by borrowing ideas from a schizophrenic man, it makes perfect sense for fans to be divided in disorganization.

Sufjan Stevens - Age of Adz, reviewed by Vintage on 2011-01-05T15:29:54+00:00 rating 4.3 out of 5



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