Plumbiferous Media

The Age of Adz - Sufjan Stevens

Sep 30th 2010
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The Age of Adz - Sufjan StevensSufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz
Score: 78

Five years after his last LP, Illi­nois, thor­ough­ly pop­u­lar indie singer-song­writer Suf­jan Stevens will release his newest album, The Age of Adz, in ear­ly Octo­ber. The Age of Adz, while it keeps some of the sound of Stevens’s ear­li­er albums, is a bit of diver­gence from style, espe­cial­ly when com­pared to Illi­nois’s ele­gant­ly ebul­lient sound. This new style cer­tain­ly has some suc­cess, but it’s hard not to feel that Stevens has aban­doned some of what made his music great, leav­ing The Age of Adz gen­er­al­ly inter­est­ing but nev­er quite absorb­ing.

Stevens takes a vari­ety of instru­men­tal approach­es on The Age of Adz, each of which is gen­er­al­ly quite suc­cess­ful. The first of these approach­es is “Futile Devices“‘s del­i­cate­ly plink­ing intro - a con­stant sound, but one which is well-accent­ed both by Stevens’s voice and by slight changes in the sound, both of which pre­vent the track from going old. After “Futile Devices,” the sound of sec­ond track “Too Much” is a bit of a shock. “Too Much” uses the same mel­low tone as its pre­de­ces­sor, but with a new, slight­ly glitch-influ­enced elec­tron­ic tone. From there, The Age of Adz goes through a num­ber of oth­er styles - and with con­trasts like that between “Vesuvius“‘s inti­mate piano-dri­ven sound and “Get Real Get Right“‘s gen­tly pump­ing qua­si-elec­tric style, it nev­er gets bor­ing.

Suf­jan Stevens’s music is noth­ing with­out his joy­ful­ly bright voice, and The Age of Adz is accord­ing­ly graced with his tones. In cer­tain places - for exam­ple, the entire­ty of album open­er “Futile Devices” - Stevens’s voice is just as sub­lime as it has been on his ear­li­er work. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, as the album pro­gress­es, Stevens’s voice becomes more and more cloud­ed and obscured by var­i­ous elec­tron­ic ele­ments and ill-advised effects. Occa­sion­al­ly the for­mer state shows up, gen­er­al­ly in the best parts of the album - but too often, Stevens’s voice sim­ply isn’t allowed to shine through as it should be. The worst is unde­ni­ably the 25-minute gar­gan­tu­an “Impos­si­ble Soul,” where Stevens’s voice suf­fers a hefty appli­ca­tion of Auto-Tune.

The Age of Adz is a bit less lyri­cal­ly metaphor­ic than some of Stevens’s ear­li­er work, but that doesn’t stop it from being quite well-writ­ten. High­lights of the album’s ele­gant approach to imagery and mean­ing include the sim­ple but clear­ly mean­ing­ful “Our words / Are futile devices” as well as the much less sim­ple but equal­ly evoca­tive “Vesu­vius / Are you ghost / Or the sym­bols of light / Or a fan­ta­sy host?” Both do an excel­lent job of draw­ing not only the images they con­tain but a lyri­cal back­ground to their respec­tive tracks, and it says quite a lot that The Age of Adz has quite a few lines like these.

Tak­en alone, The Age of Adz is cer­tain­ly an inter­est­ing album. Giv­en that it’s Suf­jan Stevens’ return to full albums after five years of intrigu­ing but not quite sat­is­fy­ing projects like The BQE, it’s even more so. While the Age of Adz doesn’t quite stand up to the stan­dard set by Stevens’s ear­li­er albums, that doesn’t make it a fail­ure. Instead, it’s a step in a new direc­tion - a direc­tion that may not be entire­ly advis­able, but an inter­est­ing direc­tion nonethe­less.

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