Sufjan Stevens is on path of no return in his new album The Age of Adz, released by his own Asthmatic Kitty record label. Forget the indie-folk singer’s classics like To be alone with you, Stevens has taken advantage of the technological revolution to create messy, creative and crazy symphonies on top of his unique soft voice. This artistic masterpiece should be appreciated, but quickly put away (apart from the odd melody) to stop the ears buzzing in resonance.
After 5 years of playing Chicago on repeat, fans can finally hear this man’s creative genius on an album surprisingly not named after a US state, his original aim.
The Age of Adz is Stevens’s artistic response to his much talked about existential crisis of questioning life, death, pain and God. But this time he goes beyond the obvious religious connotations and bases his compositions on the Biblical prophesies of the end of days made by the paranoid schizophrenic American sign painter, Royal Robertson. The self-proclaimed Prophet had hallucinations of aliens and spaceships, monsters, superheroes and futuristic cities, which are geniously reflected in Stevens’s sound.
The album begins comfortably enough with traditional acoustic guitar and his soft, whispering voice that we all missed. The lullaby-like melody declares his past efforts were nothing but Futile Devices. But the first song nowhere prepares the listener for the sounds that will soon blare his compositional habits of fluttering strings, piercing horns, and passionate church choir that will become more aggressive than ever.
It?s a strange combination of electronic synthesisers beneath which his voice that stands out and melodies emerge. In the second track’s repetitive and catchy phrase I walked ’cause you walked, listeners will easily find the melody stuck in their head a few hours later. If anything, Stevens’s lyrics manage not to alienate his listeners due to catchy tunes despite messy, creative and crazy symphonies.
But he loses me at track 4. A combination of Super Mario, Lord of the Rings and any futuristic film you can think of that makes reference to Robertson’s art, the intro will confuse any loyal listener. The title track is enough to put anyone off the entire album, which, I believe, was a smart creative idea but commercially crap one.
The track was written during the recession, which clarifies the ‘grotesque’ style of combining different genres to expose monsters and all that is ugly. The odd song proposes a confusing sound that leaves one wondering if it’s supposed to be beautiful or ugly and terrifying.
Perhaps his sound is a challenge to his fans, or a quest to find more elite listeners, or it was just one whole mash up jam. But if anything, it’s clear that Stevens has done a lot of growing up as his lyrics point out he Wasn’t older then and that It’s different now I think.
Stevens doesn’t forget to communicate with his fans and reassures them over and over he’s not fucking around in his track I want to be well which could suggest the loss of the Stevens and the revival of what the music he’s always wanted to make on his terms, not his fans’.
It’s the final 25-minute long Impossible Soul that ties it all together. Referring to Robertson’s pain of losing his wife after 19 years when she left him for someone else, Stevens also makes subtle references to himself. With lyrics that grammatically stand out from the rest he admits he was trying to be something that I wasn’t at all.
Fans have received the album in contradicting ways, some as ‘genius’ and others as ‘disappointing’ and ‘messy’. In the final track, Stevens himself indirectly addresses his listeners, ordering them: Don’t be distracted and perhaps testing his fans by asking Have you failed to feel delight? This album appears to be a test for his true loyal fans that can appreciate his talent and creativity. But for others, it’s a loud creative mess that is unlistenable.