A lot has changed since 2006 when Sufjan Stevens released his last lyrical, full-length LP, Illinois. With Age of Adz, it is evident that even Stevens has been tempted by the technology that has created a noticeable movement towards electronically-influenced indie music.
Only a month after releasing All Delighted People EP, which acted as a mellow amuse-bouche for his folk-yearning fan base, Sufjan unleashed twelve tracks that delve into the endless sub genres of indie rock. Like Illinois before it, Age of Adz is a near perfect collection of tracks that play flawlessly as one very cohesive album. Having long abandoned his ’50 States Project’, Stevens decided to use the story of ‘Libra Patriarch Prophet Lord Archbishop Apostle Visionary Mystic Psychic Saint Royal Robertson’, a Louisianian paranoid schizophrenic, as the constant thread throughout Age of Adz.
Per usual, Sufjan’s lyrical ingenuity is unwavering. His words resonate from a place deep within his soul, drawing inspiration from the inner struggles, lost love, and apocalyptic fears of Robertson, and quite clearly, himself. This album is a bipolar journey, evidenced in the chaotic/melodic “Too Much”, the triumphant 25-minute “Impossible Soul”, and delicate/bombarding “All for Myself”. With each new track, we’re introduced to a cacophony of sound presented in a way never before attempted by Stevens.
“Get Real Get Right” is one of the most experimental tracks on the record, playing with extreme vocal effects, something absent from the majority of Sufjan’s previous albums. While it isn’t one of my favorites, I am drawn to its chaotic nature, theme, and delivery. Its extraterrestrial lyrics are the most distant on the album, yet with the line, “I know I’ve always loved you, I know I’ve always been, but I must do the right thing, I must do myself a favor and get real, get right with the Lord”, a human connection is finally made. As I stated earlier, this album is schizophrenic, and “Get Real Get Right” is no different. We are simultaneously transported to a realm of aliens, fear, and want as well as a human world of love and religion.
In the midst of electronic overdose, “Vesuvius” greets us at the mouth of a deadly volcano. It’s a humbling confession of fear and insecurities and is the most emotional song on Age of Adz. This is a song for the Seven Swans fan inside us all that quietly deals with death, pain, and confusion. Its beautiful, simplistic landscape is unmatched throughout the album.
Age of Adz is like a snowball. Growing larger as it picks up speed and depth, rolling down a mountain of UFO’s, insecurities, love, hate, loss, beginnings, and ends. Its final 25 minutes are allotted to the epic, “Impossible Soul”. An entire EPs worth of material in and of itself, “Impossible Soul” blurs the definition of what a “track” is and can be. For the first time ever, we get a taste for the auto-tune side of rock. It’s one of my favorite moments of the entire album, and though I never thought it would be appropriate in a Sufjan Stevens track, it works perfectly as the inner thoughts within the mind of either Sufjan or Royal Robertson.
Age of Adz is an intrinsic analysis that provides ample evidence that Sufjan is looking to break free from the ‘singer/songwriter’ moniker. With all of his experimenting throughout the record, it’s stunning that he continues to rise above his contemporaries and excel in areas we never thought he’d venture. This is most obvious during the dance break of “Impossible Soul”, an ‘expecto patronum’ verse if you will. Its brightness breaks through layers of darkness and depression to reveal the hope that lies deep within this album. If you are looking for this album to be your next sleepy-time Sufjan collection, you’ve come to the wrong place. Age of Adz is evidence that a musician can break free of what made him popular and connect with an audience in an entirely new way without alienating all of his loyal fans. Not everyone will love this album, but for those able to make the connection, it’s an early Christmas present, and an album that will stick around for decades to come.