November 20, 2010

Age of Adz Review

5 out of 5 stars

Sufjan Stevens, the critically acclaimed Detroit-born artist has long been a cult favourite, and to me (being part of the aforementioned cult) he has been unwavering in his high quality output of music. The Age of Adz only consolidates Sufjan's position in my mind, as it is another album of immense scope that he has pulled off immaculately.

Taking elements of the banjo-laden, acoustic tracks of Michigan and the orchestral grandeur of Illinoise he has mixed them with a myriad of electronic beats and synths - creating probably his most experimental album to date. It is very different to his previous work and even though you can still pick out trumpets, violins, guitars, piano and the other instruments we expect from him, they are often carefully layered or hidden behind an electronic haze. This dramatic change could shock some die-hard fans, but if you invest your time generously into listening then you will see the true beauty of the songs and arrangements.

Lyrically, Sufjan has taken a different approach to his previous albums - before, the emotion in the songs would be rooted in geographical or historical context, whereas in Adz we tend to see the raw feeling untempered by context. This is neither enhancing nor depreciating to his music - it is just, perhaps, a hint as to how he is evolving and experimenting. How he is not willing to stay static for too long.

The first single I Walked is an electronically emotional lament with Sufjan’s gentle voice rising and falling over the beat. It’s catchy yet meaningful, each layer combining to drive the song (gently) forward. However, there are some album tracks that far surpass it. The title track is a writhing, dramatic number where you see all of the usual orchestral components combining with heavy beats, cascading synths and a catchy chorus-sung hook. I Want To Be Well maintains a swift tempo yet slowly builds into an emotional crescendo - the chorus repeating the title and Sufjan, as far as I know, swearing for the first time on a track : ‘I’m not f***ing around’. There is something so earnest about this that it seems to exude emotional charge.

Impossible Soul, a twenty-five-minute tour de force at the end of the album sums up the collection as a whole. It may seem like a large investment at first, but you will find yourself more and more willing to return - each listen granting you new revelations.

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