Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz

Sufjan Stevens is not above using a vocoder – the same digital technology that gives Kanye West and T-Pain their signature alien-smooth vocals. In fact, on his first original album since 2005’s Illinois, a collection of acoustic and banjo tracks backed by an orchestra, Stevens doesn’t shy away from the extraterrestrial or bizarre. You wouldn’t expect it from The Age of Adz’s sweet-as-a-cherry opener, “Futile Devices,” but the album swirls with complex, spastic electronic material. Three minutes into Adz, you hear the spaceships landing and laser guns hitting wall after wall of psychedelic, ominous synthesizers. The Michigan native adds tormented vocals, a brass section, choirs, and string instruments to his electronic compositions. It’s not his first time Stevens has gone beat-crazy; his second album, released 9 years ago, showcased his interest in electronic music in an even more extreme setting – without vocals. On Adz, he pushes artistic boundaries, at times challenging his listeners to open their minds to a style that stretches far from the quiet beauty of religious songs like “To Be Alone With You,” or the detailed storytelling of “John Wayne Gacy, Jr,” which both contain little more than an acoustic guitar. Stevens spends 25 minutes closing the album with the mind-bending “Impossible Soul.” It encapsulates everything the enigmatic songwriter has been striving for: beauty, manic musicianship, creative fusion, and most importantly, a sort of alienation – both sonic and literal.


  1. First-listen impressions: I'm generally opposed to 20+ minute songs in principal (because: why?) but it kind of pains me to think of how many people won't have the patience to make it to the second half of Impossible Soul.

  2. Excellent description, but seems to be missing your own subjective opinion. Given your previous post on the subject, I wonder then how much you truly liked it yourself? It's really hooked into my head. At this point, I'm getting worried about overplaying it... I've heard it at least a dozen times and that's just from the online streaming promo.

    And Brett, if you spurn 20 minute sounds, you'll miss out on some great stuff... like pretty much the entirety of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's catalog.

  3. I actually like this album so far. Impossible Soul is excellent, but I too want to skip to the second half. To me, this album sounds just enough like him to be familiar, but different enough to be something exciting. I love the heavy electronic/synth influence this time around, as opposed to Enjoy Your Rabbit, which to me sound like nothing more than an hour of blips and bleeps.

    As a side note, I just discovered your blog and I really like it. Go Cleveland bloggers! I was at the Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin show at the grog shop and it was great. I went to undergrad in St. Louis and they always were playing in that area, so I've been lucky enough to see them a few times. Also, I saw your post on Japandroids, the show of theirs I saw was incredible too, everyone went crazy.

    Keep it up!