The Age of Adz
is many, many wonderful things, few of which are what we've come to expect from Sufjan Stevens. On this go around, his banjos have been replaced with laser-electro loops, story-telling with self-reflection, and his wide-eyed orchestral cartoons for darker, wider spaces. The product is nothing short of a distorted, existential, pop-crisis masterpiece.
The cover art and title of the record comes to us from the late schizophrenic artist Royal Robertson, who, after his wife (and many children) left him for another man, spent the remaining stretch of his life cloistered off, preaching about his contact with aliens and against the dangers of loose women. Robertson turned his home into a fortress bedazzled with signs and paintings depicting apocalyptic warnings, spaceships, and all around agitated religious imagery. While Sufjan is writing any "John Wayne Gacy" -esque lyrical narrative about Robertson, there is an emotional empathy towards the outsider artist that seems to be the jumping off point for Stevens throughout Age of Adz
The two singles "Too Much" and "I Walked" are the most electro-pop minded, fluttering synths with choral arrangements kneaded in, both culminating in a sort of manic sensory overload. The 8-minute title track "Age of Adz" crashes in with disorienting industrial pounding, ebbing and flowing into a candid ballad and beyond. Even when Sufjan is dabbling in more acoustic productions on songs like "Futile Devices" and "Now That I'm Older", he maintains a layer of spaced-out distortion to his vocals. The whole record is just plain entertaining from start to finish, each track contains a multitude of sonic surprises, kooky twists, and profound revelations.
Circling back to Royal Robertson however, this record is extremely preoccupied with loneliness, repeatedly lamenting the frustrations of love as the underpinning of it all. Sufjan explores a sort of egotism as necessity, how miscommunication can create impassable distance, how making mistakes and getting older is just plain confusing sometimes, and he does it all from atop waves of manic anxiety.
I'm not going to attempt to dissect any real conclusions about his relationship, or any aspect of the deeper intentions of Stevens. Its supposed to feel unhinged, the themes are too sprawling not to, but Sufjan harnesses what he can and charges it with everything he's got. In the 25-minute album closer "Impossible Soul" the prophet Sufjan Stevens says, "the scariest things are not half as enslaved". Amen to that, amen to all of it.
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MP3: "I Want To Be Well"
Sufjan Stevens on Myspace