The Age Of Adz CD
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Sufjan Stevens' ninth studio album sees the singer-songwriter ditching the usual banjos and trumpets to create an electronic sound inspired by the works of the schizophrenic artist Royal Robertson.
It’s unusual for an artist to have wider renown for the scope of their ambition, rather than for a particular piece of work. Yet Sufjan Stevens’ place in pop culture consciousness revolves around his professed desire to write a record about every American state. With just Michigan and Illinois undertaken in the last seven years, the project’s completion seems unlikely, unless Stevens lives far beyond his 35 years. Still, those albums made clear his unique songwriting trademarks – an author’s penetrating eye for detail, and a lilting voice backed by pulsating, rhythmic orchestration.
For an artist with such an obvious interest in story and narrative, it’s a surprise to see The Age of Adz, his first album proper since 2005’s Illinois, declare at the end of its opening ballad that "words are futile devices". That line acts as a clarion call for the tone of the record, one apparently loosely based on the imagery of American artist and schizophrenic ‘prophet’ Royal Robinson. If narrative consistency was paramount before, here fragmentation and obliqueness are ever-present. Too Much is suffused with Kid A-like sighing synths and waves of glitches, while the title-track comes across like the lost soundtrack to some strange 1930s sci-fi B movie, all blustering strings and choral harmonics.
There are some beautiful moments in amongst the manic electronic experimentation, but Stevens’ strength as a songwriter lies primarily in his sincerity, his ability to express intimacy without appearing cloying or saccharin. As such it’s the most subdued, personal songs on The Age of Adz that have the deepest impact, such as Now That I’m Older with its sad refrain of "somewhere I lost whatever else I had". Still, the over-riding sense here is of a world in pieces, and an artist in the process of shedding his former self. When Stevens shrieks at the end of I Want To Be Well, "I’m not f***ing around", you wouldn’t want to argue with him, let alone when the album ends with an extraordinary 25-minute piece, Impossible Soul, that amalgamates elements of folk, hip hop and everything in-between.
As with the rest of the album, though, the lengthy closer is suffused with individual moments of brilliance but let down by its self-conscious incoherence. The Age of Adz is a record to admire, rather than to love.--Sam Lewis
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Top Customer Reviews
On hearing this record my first reaction was one of confusion. Here once again was the Sufjan that I loved, fantastic tunes beautifully sung, and intensely moving. But interspersed with great dollops of electronic squelching, and worst of all, what sounded like vocoder (or perhaps autotune). The overall effect to me was that he had taken a beautiful collection of music and scribbled over it with electronic graffiti. The experience of listening was also rather exhausting. I play a lot of music when I am in the car - and I was finding that I was getting to the end of the Sufjan journeys feeling tired and emotional. But this is Sufjan Stevens, so I persevered.
And then something happened, after about half a dozen listens the songs started to make more sense. The electronic noises became less jarring and the sense of a cohesive vision started to overtake the fear that he might have let self indulgence take over.Read more ›
If you listen to Futile Devices, the opening track, you would think that what I am writing about is a different CD. Its beautiful, breathy and Sufjan at his Illinois best. And then Too Much follows it with electronic squelch, swagger and electronics all over it. Its here you realise the rules of the game have changed. Don't get me wrong. You know its Sufjan, its an evolution of the sound you are used to. But its a real departure that some find too far removed from previous work.
The title track is not my favourite track on the disc. But it pushes this new sound further as do the following tracks, orchestral vocals, electronic sounds swooshing, brass instruments and at the core the voice, the music and the thrill of a man confident enough to push his boundaries. Some of this is quite upbeat. Get real, get right is very much an upbeat number when it gets going. And yes some of these tracks take a while to hit their stride. And may take even longer to grow on you. But give them a chance.
And then this turns into that rare thing. A CD that has a better second half than the first. Vesuvius is a real grower of a track. All for Myself could almost sit well on any Sufjan CD.Read more ›
The new album by the "coolest musician in America" (Sunday Times) starts off by flattering to deceive. "Futile Devices" the opening track to Sufjan Stevens new set of songs could have happily appeared on the outstanding "Seven Swans" and is a gentle bubbling track with a fragile folksy beauty which Stevens can appear to evoke with consummate ease. So then Stevens is clearly going to compensate for his abandonment of his 50 state album cycle promise with a return to earlier glories?
No such chance, indeed while the ""he Age of Adz" has some transcendent moments, this is primarily an album of electronic soundscapes, whose trajectory can be loosely traced back in Stevens musical past to 2002's largely electronic Chinese Zodiac concept album "Enjoy your Rabbit". It is therefore not surprising that the critical reception to this album thus far has been in places bemused and quizzical (and in Uncut's case characterised by outright hostility questioning whether our hero is "a genius or just a show off").
The line between originality and over indulgence is of course a thin one but in Stevens case his ability to make his music soar is the special ingredient. For example the second track "Too much" is Sufjan Stevens meets Yeasayer and a joyous electronic concoction. The funky electronica of "I walked" revolves around an almost trip hop big synth loop and has Stevens trademark angelic vocals and surreal lyrics where he asks "Lover, will you look from me now/I'm already dead/but I've come to explain/why I left such a mess on the floor". Other highlights also include the gently rolling 'Vesuvius' which concentrates on giving self advice and messages to himself and "Bad communication" a short beautiful fragment of a song.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Listening to Sufjan Stevens lyrics and compositions is a pleasure. This music is truly music to one's ears.Published 6 months ago by Joyce M. Gleeson-adamidis
Sufjan Stevens is in a class of his own. He does not seem to conform with any style of music and Goes his own way.Published 19 months ago by Hans Westerlaken
I'm going to quote a friends opinion on this album. "Sufjan Stevens' experimental electronic side (as seen on 2001's Enjoy Your Rabbit) finally comes to terms with his softer... Read morePublished on 14 Dec. 2013 by Needle In Groove
The Cd arrived when they said it would. Like new, like it said. So, i am very satisfied with the servicePublished on 10 Dec. 2012 by Manel
I'm surprised by the positive reviews expressed regarding this album. I want so very much to 'like' this album even if not 'love' it like I do (some of) his previous efforts. Read morePublished on 5 Jun. 2012 by Charlie
Until this album came out I was never a huge Sufjan Stevens fan, I enjoyed a few of the songs but found it hard to sustain interest in listening to a whole album. Read morePublished on 16 Oct. 2011 by asdfghjk
I am totally the wrong person to give you an objective view of this album...... I am totally addicted to Sufjan Stevens..... the Age of the Adz gives me such a rush. Read morePublished on 31 Aug. 2011 by J P LOKER
Unlike most reviewers I am new to Sufijan Stevens' work and I started writing this after my first listening as this album grabbed me immediately. Read morePublished on 25 July 2011 by Mr. J. Evans