Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz

Release Date: 10/12/10
Genre: Experimental electronica w/ orchestra

When I don't know what to listen to, I just cue up Illinois until I can find something else to explore, but a lot of times, I just let it play out because that album is so satisfying no matter what mood I'm in.  When I describe his work between '03-'06 to be untouchable, I just meant how effortless his songs seem to come out.  I've been wondering since how could he ever top himself.  Even with subsequent releases, to a lot of fans, Illinois was his last proper full length album.  Until now.

Review: If you heard his "Christmas Vol 8", "You Are The Blood," and/or "All Delighted People," then you probably fell like me in that Sufjan is really pushing his boundaries.  There was nothing wrong with his style, maybe he could still pull it off and capture that folk sound, but after 5 years and numerous newcoming acts that sounded remotely "Sufjan," you start to wonder, what can the actual Sufjan do?  There was a strong sign that he was headed towards a more electronic sound (i never listen to enjoy your rabbit), but The Age of Adz is drenched in it.

If I never heard of Sufjan, I probably would have went, "This is bullshit!" but because I am a fan, I was really determine to like it.  My initial impressions were like many, "this is a lot to take in."  The melodies aren't as sparklingly and the sound is noisy.  Like there's more alterations with the vocals and sometimes it feels buried, but it's fine because the music is very interesting.  I mean, this is seriously strange.  There isn't a underlying melody, just more bleep-bloop. Maybe this is a sign that I have limited taste, but the only recording artist I can compare this album to is Sufjan himself.

The opening track is as close as what we can get to a pure old-Sufjan track, then "Too Much" just smashes everything apart.  It feels like it'll have the verse/chorus exchange, then the second half of it just soars above it.  Do other people zone out when they listen to music because I love it when I can do it. The music suddenly stops being about fitting in within my life and more on understanding why was this piece of music was created.  Yikes, I sound like a snob. 

Now if there's only one track you can listen to, make it the title track, "Age of Adz."  I feel that it's the best summation of Sufjan's work.  It has the best of both worlds.  The vocals are heartbreaking mixed with the orchestral and heavenly choir.  Then there's the futuristic/apocalypse sound, yet there's something so troublesome hearing him sing "When I die, I'll rot" like he's afraid of the unknown.

During my first listen, "Vesuvius" was my standout track that I couldn't wait to repeat.  It begins gentle and builds with more layers.  I love the bubbles and I love that flute!  I understand that Vesuvius is a volcano, but just the way this song is put together, I can feel the sorrow or pain or the feeling that a past lover can't hear him call for help. Still, I feel good when I hear it like I want to take action.

The final two tracks are probably what most listeners will take away from.  "I Want to be Well" marks the first time Sufjan uses profanity.  Part of his charm was how excessive he got so it almost became silly.  Hearing him sing "I'm not fucking around" caught me off guard, but I enjoy it.  Consider how fast beat the music was, that moment where everyone is shouting "and i want to be well" just feels so rejuvenating.

On the last EP, "Djohariah" suffered with me because it felt like it was stalling.  "Impossible Soul" manages to use all of its time to its fullest.  I've read around and some people are really upset with the autotune, but it's just for effect, not for pitch correction.  Then the second half is an all out sing-a-long.  Really happy moment.

1. Futile Devices 10/10
2. Too Much 9/10
3. Age of Adz 10/10
4. I Walked 8/10
5. Now That I'm Older 10/10
6. Get Real Get Right 8/10
7. Bad Communication 7/10
8. Vesuvius 10/10
9. All For Myself 9/10
10. I Want To Be Well 10/10
11. Impossible Soul 10/10

Summary:  It's a challenging album which doesn't always add up to being good.  At least he's doing what he wants to do. Unlike the EP which some felt like throwaways tracks, this album is well-crafted

Key Tracks: Age of Adz, Vesuvius, Impossible Soul
Rating: 9.3/10

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