Sufjan Stevens, the independent music idealist, brings forth his first ‘legitimate’ album in 5 years, and in oh so few words; it is spectacular.
The Age of Adz is an art rock tour de force. A practically flawless revelation in music exploration that seemingly combines the best in electronic composition with sublime orchestral backing to create something that is wholeheartedly unique yet undoubtedly recollected.
The intrinsic splendor of the album as a whole lies both in the structure of the individual pieces as well as the entirety of the record. Beginning with the subtly grand nature of ‘Futile Devices’, which mixes mildly distorted vocals with piano, carrying through to the booming tempo beats and wailing flutes that accompany the grinding machine – like start of the title track.
These alone establish how epic some of the tracks can be, each one lifting the listener into an astral plane of infinite description. In picking out particular musical highlights, the messy guitar solo of ‘Vesuvius’, the diverse orchestral work on ‘Get Real Get Right’ and the slow jazz-like, gospel rhythm of ‘All For Myself’ deserve particular attention.
In terms of vocals, the man stays on form; both in retaining the soft, melodic resonance that helps his songwriting take on true meaning, but also in directing the backing vocalists that have always made the music his own. The hauntingly beautiful choir that takes off track five, ‘Now That I’m Older’ for the first minute or so leaves the rest of the song almost unneeded, yet when put forward with his own pipes it’s undoubtedly the most elegant song on offer.
If there is a blemish on the album, it’s the 25 minute odyssey that caps it off, ‘Impossible Soul’. Whilst not terrible, the choice to do one massive track over several smaller ones feels like a misstep. It feels as if Sufjan wanted to use up every trick he had left in this song. It’s a variable cluster of effects and styling that almost seem below what he is capable of, such as the vocoder that takes over 10 minutes in, followed by a poorly constructed club anthem-like structure.
Some fans of his more folk-centric work over the years may be somewhat repulsed by the fusion on offer in The Age of Adz; and that’s their loss. True fans aware of his earlier electronic music will be in bliss as the two halves of his career come full circle in a collection of tracks that are apart from damn near anything else in the industry at the moment, or at the very least at a completely different level of quality..