You can purchase this album, and listen to or download individual songs from it at Sufjan Stevens' website, here.
In 2005 Sufjan Stevens released the hugely popular album Illinois, thus securing his rapid rise to indie fame. While Illinois wasn’t Sufjan’s debut album (in fact it was his fifth record), its sudden popularity inevitably wore him out. Many feared that he wouldn’t release another proper record after certain comments made in 2009, but lo and behold, last year our Sufjan thirst was quenched, and indeed our cup runneth over. Not only did the indie-folk genius release a surprise EP (All Delighted People), but another mind-blowing full-length album as well, The Age of Adz – a total of two hours, fourteen minutes, and eighteen seconds of new and worthwhile Sufjan material.
For two of his records, Greetings from Michigan (2003) and Illinois (2005), Sufjan had been engaging in his ‘Fifty States Project’, which aimed at producing an album for each of the fifty American states. As with Seven Swans (2004), Sufjan abandoned the project with his new album – perhaps permanently this time (commenting in an interview with The Guardian, ‘I have no qualms about admitting it was a promotional gimmick.’).
Age of Adz draws heavily from the artwork of American ‘outsider artist’, the self-proclaimed ‘Prophet’ Royal Robertson (1936-1997). In his artwork, Robertson frequently made use of biblical apocalyptic imagery and bizarre references to extra terrestrials. Regrettably, Robertson’s artwork also developed a misogynistic streak, a reflection of the turmoil he faced when his wife left him for another man. Sufjan, however, makes brilliant use of these themes both lyrically and instrumentally. The title itself, The Age of Adz, takes its name from a painting by Robertson, featured on the album cover.
These themes are not entirely alien to Sufjan’s repertoire (i.e. tracks like ‘Seven Swans’ from the album of the same name, ‘Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL’ from Illinois and ‘Dumb I Sound’ from A Sun Came – released in 2000), but what he does in Age of Adz is different – perhaps of a higher order. Incorporating large-scale orchestral elements like he did in BQE and glitchy, electronic soundscapes—especially prevalent in Enjoy Your Rabbit—Sufjan synthesises a decade of music into one powerful and groundbreaking magnum opus.
The listener will discover that The Age of Adz is strikingly personal as Sufjan skilfully expresses the tragedy of lost love in tracks like ‘Too Much’ and ‘I Walked’. Musically, Sufjan is pushing the boundaries of indie and pop; perhaps alienating those who are looking for things reminiscent of the ‘older stuff’; although tracks like ‘Futile Devices’, ‘Now That I’m Older’, ‘Vesuvius’ and ‘All For Myself’ aren’t far from the more tender Sufjan of Michigan days. Sufjan even makes use of ‘strong language’ on this record, beautifully repeating the line ‘I’m not [messing] around’ at the climax of ‘I Want to Be Well’, which is likely to catch many listeners off-guard. But this record is anything but gratuitous. And it is never boring, even throughout the twenty-five minute, five-part finale, ‘Impossible Soul’.
Like any great epic, the album brings the listener on a mystical journey, over the sea and through uncharted lands. It is at times orienting (‘I must do myself a favour and get real, get right with the Lord’), while at other times entirely disorienting (‘Oh, I know it wasn't safe, it wasn't safe to breathe at all’), but The Age of Adz culminates in the declaration, ‘It's not so impossible.’