A Review of Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
Ever since Sufjan Stevens’ release of Illinois in 2005, I have been greatly anticipating future Sufjan releases. Originally, I expected them to be continuations of his so-called 50 States Project, but looking back I think we all knew that that was just a big joke. Last year, Sufjan released The BQE, which is actually the score of a film that Sufjan wrote and directed. However, seeing how it’s just an instrumental album, I haven’t made it a priority to check it out even though I probably should. And now finally, five years after Illinois, Sufjan comes through with some new songs, first by releasing the All Delighted People EP in August and then the full-length, The Age of Adz, in October.
The Age of Adz does not disappoint. Spanning genres and layering sounds in true Sufjan style, this album is loaded with passionate storytelling, sentimental fervor, and deep emotion. This is an album I think any grown up or anyone growing up can relate to. It tells the tales of pain, regret, heartache, and sorrow; stories that seem to get harder and harder to tell sincerely in an increasingly detached and distant electronic age. In “Get Real, Get Right,” Sufjan confesses that some his struggles may be the result of straying from his God: “I know I’ve caused you trouble / I know I’ve caused you pain / But I must do the right thing / I must do myself a favor / And get real, get right with the Lord.”
“I Walked” is a quintessential break-up song, replete with lyrics like, “For when you went away / I went crazy … I ran through the night / With the knife in my chest.” “Now That I’m Older” is a song that anyone who is advancing in their adult years can relate to as they look back on the stupid things they did in their youth and how they squandered away their time: “I wasn’t older yet / I wasn’t wise I guess.” In “I Want to Be Well,” Sufjan acknowledges that “illness likes to prey upon the lonely,” and with that asserts that he would “rather be fine” and he “wants to be well.” Towards the end of the song there won’t be any question about whether or not he is serious. I think he makes it pretty clear that he is.
Musically this album is pure Sufjan Stevens with its soft to loud to soft again and its layered instrumentation and intricate orchestration. And what Sufjan album would be complete without choirs pitching in on a few of the tracks? The musical element that stands out the most though is the heavy use of electronica. Those familiar mostly with Michigan, Illinois, and Seven Swans may find the synthesizers, drum samples, and noise freakouts a bit odd or unsettling, but Sufjan masters electronic music and could easily stand side by side with any of the giants of that genre. If you need proof, just listen to “Too Much,” “The Age of Adz,” “I Walked,” “Get Real, Get Right,” “All for Myself,” and “I Want to be Well.”
Finally, The Age of Adz culminates in a 25 minute track which is a medley of five songs all lumped under the title, “Impossible Soul.” The first song features a guitar solo that could easily be found in a Wilco song. In another song, Sufjan uses Auto-Tune on his vocals, which although quite popular in mainstream rap music these days is really just gimmicky and was probably a mistake. The next song is a dance party. Finally, the track wraps up with a quiet number that seems to sum up the feeling of the entire album: Despite our countless flaws, life is better when it’s spent with those we love.
“I’m sorry if I seem self-effacing
Consumed by selfish thoughts
It’s only that I still love you deeply
It’s all the love I’ve got.”
-Sufjan Stevens “The Age of Adz”