Sufjan Stevens - Age of Adz

New Music of Note
Someone You Should Know
by Emma Dessau

It may seem a bit late to write about Sufjan Stevens sixth full length release Age of Adz, seeing as it was released all the way back in the sunny, still-long and warm days of early October. Alas, I will admit it took more than a few listens to this album - and trust me, it is best listened to all the way through, which will take approximately 1.5 hours - to find how remarkably ingenious it is.

Age of Adz is a perfect compilation of Sufjan’s best artistic traits. His lyrics are poignant yet sweet, and his storytelling tugs at heartstrings almost immediately with opening track “Futile Devices.” The first line, “It’s been a long, long, time since I memorized your face,” is classic love song Sufjan: Succinctly put, familiarly warming, and depressing all at the same time. This track is most similar to Sufjan’s well-known and loved albums, Illinois and Greetings from Michigan.

Sufjan Stevens - Age Of Adz
photo by Marzuki Stevens

However, by the time the second track, “Too Much,” comes on, we see Age of Adz is different from Sufjan’s other releases. “Too Much” starts out with bubbling, electronic noises and shooting beats, the kind of experimental sounds only found on his pre-fame instrumental album Enjoy Your Rabbit and to a lesser extent, 2009‘s The BQE. What makes “Too Much,” and the following tracks on this album so remarkable is Sufjan’s seamless integration of his out-there sounds, sketched and reworked from Enjoy Your Rabbit, into accessible and rhythmic tracks that almost stick to typical pop song rises and falls. “Too Much” is topped off with the catchy chorus repetition of, “It’s too much riding on that / Too much, too much, too much, love.”

The title track “Age of Adz” calls back to Sufjan’s choral vocal stylings and the church boy-reminiscent harmonies from his older tracks like “Chicago” on Illinois or even the haunting back ups on “All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands” from my personal favorite, Seven Swans. Still, the cerebral instrumentals echoing throughout the song keep this track more in line with Sufjan’s “You Are the Blood” contribution to 2009’s AIDS benefit album Dark Was the Night. It is epic and swirling, and enlightens us to the correct pronunciation of “Adz” in his title (it’s pronounced “odds,” apparently, but that’s another story.)

I Walked” continues Age of Adz electro-pop rhythms, but the layered quality of Sufjan’s sometimes falsetto vocals keep the upbeat track (instrumentally, at least) creepy and distanced. This album, as oppose to the majority of Sufjan’s prior releases, focuses on present personal narratives, rather than the typical sad childhood past or reflective lost love stories. The lyrics to “I Walked,” when they are paid attention to and not lost under the swaying and foot stomping influences of the song’s instrumentals, are mournful of fresh wounds. In fact, if the song was constructed more in the style of Sufjan’s folky songs, “I Walked” might take the superlative for saddest song on the album. Somehow, though, the repeated, “I walked, because you walked / But I probably won’t get very far” comes off strangely cheerful.

I could recap each song on this album, but I will not. Instead, I will skip ahead to what has become my favorite two song package on Age of Adz, “Vesuvius” and “All for Myself.” “Vesuvius” starts out small and becomes a chanting celebration. The piano key simplicity featured at the start of this song builds to a big pay off, and all the dissonant voices come together to ask, “Why does it have to be so hard?” Sufjan even manages to rhyme his name with the catastrophic volcano of this track’s title. “Vesuvius” noisily melts into “All for Myself,” a track that begins with shooting pulses, then synthesizes and harmonizes into a satisfying hymn of “I want it all, I want it all for myself.” With each replay of this song I love it more; it is a combination of frank honesty and easy-to-miss lyrics which demand attention.

Danny Renshaw photo

And as we reach the end of the album, Sufjan rounds out the journey with “Impossible Soul, or, The Closer to End All Closers” (no, that last part is not actually the song’s title but Sufjan has a tendency for long multiple clause titles, so why can’t I?). This whopping 25 minute track twists and turns from a soft opening to an autotuned middle... yes, you heard correctly, that is autotune he uses somewhere around minute ten when everything starts to sound a little like Kanye West. He manages to epically harness the ridiculousness of autotuning his naturally beautiful voice, and then finishes off the album with a Daft Punk-ish sing-a-long, “Boy, we can do much more together / it’s not so impossible!”

Whew. I’ll be listening to this album all winter long. And if you can spare the cash, go see him at The Orpheum on November 11th or 12th. Sit in a comfortable seat away from the cold Boston weather and watch the boy genius do his thing.

Sufjan Stevens
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Unknown said…
wish I could. But I'm going tomorrow, thanks to the wifey.

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