Album Review: Sufjan Stevens “Age of Adz”

Thanks for checking out our first album review!

Reviewers: Jon Page (Rhythm Factory representative), Abigail (fellow musician/girlfriend) and Jake (who just knows good music when he hears it).

Jake:

The heavy bass, auto-tune and complete menagerie of other synthetic sounds that team up with the climbs and falls of flutes and pealing blasts of horns shouldn’t come as a surprise to any Sufjan fan that has kept up with him. He jumped into the digital world years ago with the Chinese-Zodiac inspired Enjoy Your Rabbit and has been mixing it up ever since.

The surprises on Age of Adz, his most recent release come in two other, seemingly contradictory forms. First, Stevens sings about his faith more directly than he ever has in the past and second, he swears on this album. Any good Christian would avoid using any four-letter word at all, let alone in the same context they use to announce their faith. At least, that’s been the assumption we’ve made for probably over a thousand years now.

In “Get Real Get Right” Stevens declares that he’s lost his conscience as well as his  shame before explaining that doing himself a favor means getting right with the Lord. This statement comes as a shock to anyone accustomed to Sufjan singing about cities, women and animals. This man has been a Christian the whole time he’s been a musician, but he’s never been a Christian musician. Most of us are grateful for that, but still celebrate this direct declaration of faith. 

Crying out, “I’m not &^@%-ing around” some sixteen or so times in one song not only puts Stevens in competition with some gangster rappers from the nineties but also seems to undermine the statement of faith in “Get Real Get Right”, unless examined in the context of the rest of the song. Sufjan might be sharing an otherwise unknown part of his vocabulary, but at the same time, the background vocals emphasize the namesake desire of the song, that Stevens “wants to be well”.  This sounds like a serious plea for help that just happens to be seasoned and punctuated with a four-letter word.

Could it be that Stevens found himself in a place where swearing about his faith illustrated his seriousness? Perhaps the big guns were brought out for this occasion because something significant has happened in his life. Sufjan doesn’t come across as the kind of man who would use profanities simply for shock-value- besides, haven’t Marilyn Manson, Eminem and Derek Webb already beat that method to death?

Stevens’s choice in language might not be a conventional means to communicating his seriousness about faith, but the whole album is almost anti-conventional anyway, so it fits. This happy listener hasn’t been able to turn the album off since buying it. Not only that, but I’m excited to see what Sufjan does next.

Jon:

This album by Sufjan Stevens brings a mixture of genres together to create a listening experience hard to place into words. His mixture of acoustic and electronic music with brass, wind instruments and strings featured throughout will lead you through a world both dissonant and harmonious, elated yet melancholy. This album kicks off with “Futile Devices.” Subtle layers of melody and harmony build throughout this short introduction as numerous stringed instruments come together to form a beautiful soundscape which is brought to a close with it’s final lyrics giving us the heart of this song: “Words are futile devices.” Two tracks later we come to this albums namesake, “Age of Adz.” This etherial electronic parade can be a bit busy for my taste at times; none-the-less it is quite an adventure. Dissonance and pitch bending abound as this otherworldly parade leads you through distressed wastelands and peaceful fields alike. An experience to say the least. One can place the intention of the artist in his final lines of this track: “I’m sorry if I seem self-effacing, consumed by selfish thoughts. It’s only that I still love you deeply. It’s all the love I’ve got.”

I think it was the final track on this album that struck me the most however. Entitled “Impossible Soul”, this near half-hour acoustic electronic journey guides us through the experience of two lovers with two very different goals.Finishing as a duet, this song culminates in the words: “I gotta tell you girl I want nothing less. Girl I want nothing less than pleasure. I gotta tell you boy we made such a mess. Boy we made such a mess together.” A potent and painful exploration of the desires and expectations of modern man contrasted with the unmet needs of the modern woman. This emotional train ride weaves a world riddled with pain and regret. I’m thoroughly impressed with the composition on this piece. Overall I was very impressed with the artistry in this album. Each song has it’s place and I never felt as if I was being fed filler material leading to the next “real” song. A great buy for anyone looking to broaden their musical palette.

Abby:

You know those artists that you hear about often, but you never actually listen to them? That is my relationship with Sufjan Stevens. This album had a hard time catching my attention at first, but as I sat down to really read through the lyrics and examine the music I found some great music that bends the barriers between sub-pop and I’m not sure what else. As a fresh Sufjan fan (despite his extensive discography), I have no basis to go off of when people talk about how he’s “changed” as an artist – which is probably an advantage with this album.

At first, I felt like I’d stepped into a videogame while listening to this album. The busy noises seemed to have a very thrown-together sound, and stylistically that’s just not my favorite sound.  As I listened to the album a few times over, however, that noise just became part of the experience for me. Now that I’m used to it, the overall sound of this album to me is more of a “layered journey.” The sounds are rarely one-dimensional, and the changes in the audible setting are well placed.

Lyrically I love what Stevens has done with this album. Incorporating the phrase “I Love You” in to more than half of the songs, while using different tempers and tones, brought the kind of feel to the album that makes you want to listen to the whole thing through if you’re going to listen to it at all.

The standout track for me on the album is “Impossible Soul.” Amazing lyrics, artful harmonies, and an ethereal tone make this song one that I find stuck in my head lately. While this overall album was a stretch out of my norm, it was an enjoyable experience.

 

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Creating quality guitarists since 2010! The Rhythm Factory is your first and most important step in becoming an accomplished guitarist! But more than just providing top-notch guitar instruction, we are seeking to create a community of guitarists who can collaborate and work together in order to foster creativity and diversity in the Boise music scene. Let's start something amazing! View all posts by therhythmfactory

2 responses to “Album Review: Sufjan Stevens “Age of Adz”

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