Album Review :
Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz

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Band: Sufjan Stevens
Title: The Age of Adz
Label: Asthmatic Kitty
Release Date: 10/12/2010
Reviewer: Joshua Hedlund

Tracklisting:

  1. Futile Devices
  2. Too Much
  3. Age of Adz
  4. I Walked
  5. Now That I’m Older
  6. Get Real Get Right
  7. Bad Communication
  8. Vesuvius
  9. All for Myself
  10. I Want To Be Well
  11. Impossible Soul

The indie darling’s first full-length album since 2005 is either the most brilliant thing we’ve seen in years or a fantastical derailment into nonsense. “Futile Devices” starts it off as a fairly normal acoustical, pleasant, and vulnerable track. The analog-y prog-y moog-y electronics and synths start knocking things over in the second track, although with no loss to the classic Sufjan array of vocals, handclaps, horns, and strings. The setup may be disconcerting to the kind of folks who like dancing to “Chicago” in their folky playlists, but I actually found the electronic knobs and whirs and arcade-like sound effects to add an interesting flavor to Sufjan’s already interesting indie instrumentation. As always, though, some will love it and some will not.

The lyrics get more intentionally cryptic as the album continues, and supposedly have to do with an obscure painter from the previous century and his schizophrenic visions of an alien-induced apocalypse. Of course there may be more to Sufjan’s lines than that, but who can ever know for sure?

Is “Vesuvius” a volcanic call for God to burn up our selfishness, or something else entirely? Is “Get Real Get Right” serious when it enjoins us to “get right with the Lord” because of the coming alien invasion, or is that just a metaphor? And is Sufjan expressing something extremely poignant when he repeatedly exclaims, “I’m not f***ing around” on “I Want To Be Well,” or are we completely missing it when the more fundamental among us hesitate to judge him but still rather wish he hadn’t? Sufjan’s penchant for the occasional vaguely lustful or creepy line is also still intact. Is the “murdering ghost” the Holy Spirit? Or do I just not understand him at all?

The extended album closer may have been beaten to death in recent years, but Sufjan takes things to another level entirely with his 25-minute opus composed of five musically distinct movements. Fans will be theorizing on the meanings of the different acts for years to come, as each piece feels deliberate and purposeful – including the autotune on the third movement – and yet still cryptic and weird.

Overall: At times, Sufjan seems to teeter so closely to the fine line between genius and madness that maybe only your vantage point can determine your conclusion. The vocal and instrumental layerings are as brilliant as ever. Additionally, Sufjan continues to refuse to be pigeonholed both as an independent musician and a Christian. Yet while the strange sound effects and inexplicable lyrics may be all well and good in the name of creativity, they also may be just enough to prevent you from understanding and enjoying it as much as you wish you could.

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