Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sufjan Stevens – The Age Of Adz

The career of the enigmatic Sufjan Stevens is a long and storied one.  Starting off as a simple singer-songwriter with the album A Sun Came, greatness was not necessarily expected of him.  As far as that album goes, it is a straightforward folk album with its share of highs and lows, but mostly nothing to special.  However, his next album, Enjoy Your Rabbit, explored his love of electronic music, branching out from his folk roots.  Then came his 50 states project, his plan to write an album for each of the 50 states, beginning with Michigan.  This is where Sufjan began to flourish as not only a musician, but an all around great songwriter as well.  This theme carried on to what many consider his opus, Illinois, a sweeping 73:59 album, ripe with orchestral arrangements, and bursting at the seams with great storytelling and themes centering around the state of Illinois.  So, when The Age of Adz (pronounced “odds”) was released, many were disappointed to see him abandon the 50 states project for a run of the mill album.  Even more people that had grown accustomed to his knack for combining  indie folk with string arrangements were taken aback by his near abandonment of that sound in order to incorporate some of his previous sounds from Enjoy Your Rabbit: drum machines, synthesizers, and the likes of that.  However, what is birthed from that combination is an overall fantastic album that does not disappoint.

Listening to the opening track on The Age of Adz, “Futile Devices”, more of the same is expected out of Sufjan.  The standard folk kit is employed here, bare of anything but guitar and vocals.  However, outside of the opener, no song on the album is stripped down to those, for lack of a better word, “simplistic” features.  The following song, “Too Much”, introduces you to Sufjan's electronic side with squelching synthesizers and a choppy drum beat.  However, once the vocals kick in, you get the same sense that this is his style of music, just adapting to new instrumentation.  And, just because Sufjan has left the standard instrumentation behind does not mean he has left behind his sense of composition.  Songs on this album may use samplers and synthesizers, but he pieces them together beautifully, just as if he was conducting his own miniature orchestra.

Other highlights of the album include “I Walked”, a reflection about a love lost.  This is a theme that carries throughout the entire album.  In fact, as a whole, this album is much more personal than anything he previously released, allowing the listener a glimpse into his personal life.  This is also shown on the album closer “Impossible Soul”, a twenty-five and a half minute track that seems much shorter than it actually is because of the technical prowess he displays when weaving his lyrics together with his instruments, knowing the perfect times to stop for an instrumental breakdown, or when to use soft, slow, pulsing synth beats to drive the soft-spoken lyrics to the forefront of the listeners focus.  Even autotune is employed, but he uses it as a tool to accentuate what is essentially an a cappella section of the song, rather than punch you in the face with it like some artists love to do.

However, nothing on the album can compare to the track “I Want To Be Well”.  For people who know of Sufjan, he is known as a devout Christian.  So when listening to his music, you expect that same tone, which for the most part you do receive.  He is not in your face with it, in fact he never really mentions it, but it is an underlying tone throughout all of his work.  So, when listening through this song, it sounds like a mostly upbeat song if listening to the music.  However, in contrast with the music, Sufjan employs some pretty sullen lyrics.  Also, near the end of the song, it is extremely jarring to hear Sufjan say over and over, “I'm not fucking around”.  It is not just saying it for the sake of saying it like many bands would do.  When he says it, it has a certain power behind it, possibly due to the fact that I can't think of him even saying “damn” in any other track of his.

All in all, this is album is another entry into the already storied music career of Sufjan Stevens.  It will be interesting to see where he goes from this album to the next, whether he carries on with the digitized sounds, or moves back into his comfort zone with a guitar.  I would love for him to continue on this same path, delving more into his personal life, and getting more introspective looks into the life of Sufjan.  But as was proven with the release of The Age Of Adz, no one can ever really know what to expect out of Sufjan Stevens, other than consistently great music, no matter what the format may be.


--Genesis

Buy here mp3The Age of Adz:
Buy here vinyl: Age of Adz (2xLP)

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