Heavy Rotation Review — Age of Adz

Highly anticipated with the release of his bulky EP All Delighted People, Sufjan Stevens’ tenth studio-released album The Age of Adz was finally leaked a few weeks before its planned release in October. October 12th was the target release date, but with heavy streaming of the album in its entirety on NPR and our instant gratification-orientated society, the album is readily available now to anyone who has access to the lovely internet. The Age of Adz is Stevens’ first song-based full length album in five years. As opposed to the state-themed albums that made him a household name, The Age of Adz seems to be more about the end of the world and collapsing romantic relationships than any of the fifty-one states. This theme of the end of the world is first introduced with the album’s actual title, which in itself is a reference to the apocalyptic artwork of schizophrenic artist Royal Robertson.

Stevens appears to be embracing a more electronic based sound in this album, as opposed to the heavily acoustic and instrumentally-dominant sound of his earlier albums. However the dramatic element of his sound that made it unique in the first place is still retained. This is apparent even in the first track of the album, “Futile Devices.” The track has a hazy and dreamlike quality as Stevens introduces the listener to one of the album’s overarching themes; love. The second track of the album, “Too Much,” meanwhile, introduces an industrial element to the album’s sound. It reminds one of the Flaming Lips’ popular track, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1.” The song almost has the feel of a videogame soundtrack like Mario Kart or Donkey Kong. Sufjan Stevens’ ever present choir singing along also succeeds in reminding one of his earlier popular songs “Chicago” with its melancholy, haunting quality. “Too Much” also reintroduces Stevens’ infamous trumpet domination.

The title track of the album keeps up with the dramatic yet upbeat sound of the album, while also having almost gospel undertones. There are many illusions to death within the song as well as apocalyptic imagery. Stevens has always made spiritual and religious illusions in his music. While this song appears to be a little more subtle, the album’s theme itself is very heavily influenced by the theme of the apocalypse. Another song on the album that greatly supports this theme of Armageddon is the song “Vesuvius.” The title itself is a reference to Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano that erupted at Pompeii, wiping out an entire ancient civilization yet preserving their bodies eerily well with its ash during the eruption. However, the song is also strange lyrically in the way that within it, Stevens addresses himself directly and appears to almost be giving himself a sort of pep talk as well as reminding himself of his own self-destructive qualities. In this way, it makes the song an even more intimate look into the artist himself and the album more representative of the relationship that Sufjan Stevens has with his listeners.

The longest and possibly most complex track on the album is the closing song, “Impossible Love.” A whopping twenty-five minutes long, it switches gears and tones numerous times and has enough substance to be at least three separate tracks. The first fifteen minutes of the song start slow with the use of a piano as opposed to the more upbeat electronic sound of the rest of the album. Addressing a woman who has broken his heart, Sufjan’s voice fades in and out, giving the song a psychedelic dream-like quality. The raspy guitar also adds to the haziness of the song. The song then fades into a more electronic sound which it carries all the way into the ten minute mark. All of the sudden, Stevens utilizes auto-tune, made famous by our good friends T-Pain and Weezy. This gives the song an almost neo-hip hop sound as Stevens preaches about ignorance. Then the song takes a more upbeat tone around the fifteen minute mark, tipping a cap to Daft Punk and Justice. The theme then relates more to appreciating life for what it is and appreciating it. This is apparent with the lyrics “It’s a long life, better pinch yourself.” The song also relates back to the album’s overall theme of the apocalypse with this song, as by urging listeners to take life for what it is, he reminds one that with the end of the world so close at hand, we better take what we can get. Then, finally, with three minutes left in the song, Stevens reverts back to his acoustic roots. It seems that Stevens is apologizing for the confusion that either this album has caused the listener or that life itself causes to all of humankind. The message that we can accomplish more together than alone from the beginning of the song is repeated and Stevens urges that his only goal is to find pleasure and to accomplish something greater.

The All Delighted People EP might have been the precursor to The Age of Adz, but nothing could have prepared one for all that is awesome and confusing about Sufjan Stevens’ latest album. Themes of the apocalypse and hearts broken run rampant throughout the album and a more upbeat electronic influence is also apparent. However, there is still much of the old Sufjan sound in the album as well. While disconcerting in its newness and daring in its weirdness, The Age of Adz does anything but disappoint.