Sufjan Stevens and The Age of Adz, or the day Sufjan fell in love with a drum machine. Lets not pretend we didn’t see it coming though. Arguably the departure began after his critically acclaimed Come on Feel the Illinoise LP and the Fifty States project. After his flirtations with Christmas songs, Stevens seemed to use that platform to begin stretching the limits of his musical exploration, notably with his reworking of ‘Run Rabbit Run’ and his tribute/soundtrack to the Brooklyn-Queen’s expressway with The BQE.
The Age of Adz contains all the charm and graces of …Illinoise but it also marks a shift in his sound that will both some alienate older fans and earn him new ones with what could be termed his own Kid A. The glittery soundscapes, dreamy harmonics and floating choral accompaniments are still present, only significantly evolved. ‘Now That I’m Older’ is an apt example; it contains those glowing choral passages, which were such a large part of …Illinoise and Michigan, yet it sounds very much like a new departure for Stevens. ‘Get Real Get Right’, too, has those flute flutterings that were so loved on previous albums, but with a new, chunky drum machine beat holding it all together. This is very much a different turn for him, one headed towards Mars perhaps.
‘Vesuvius’ is the vesica piscis, if you will, between ‘old’ and ‘new’ Sufjan, the point in the centre where things have begun to change for him. Largely though, the Sufjan of old is merely a ghost in the (drum) machine; bit-crushed beats behind his unmistakable voice seems to be the Stevens we must live with from now on.
The last track, ‘Impossible Soul’ is almost an album in itself, clocking in at just over 24 minutes. It moves and churns between strange electronics and cheery swells – it even includes a few dodgy verses with Stevens using Auto-Tune. Yes, Auto-Tune! Sometimes it seems a little ‘too pop’, almost purposely cheesy and a tad off-putting, yet, in a way, the song sums up the entire album – the Sufjan Stevens for the future is all in here.
The Age of Adz will not be received well by all; certainly those ‘blow in’ fans that hopped on board briefly when …Illinoise caught the world’s attention will shy away from his new departure. Most long-term fans should still hold true, and, more importantly, The Age of Adz should catch the attention of those who thought that Stevens’ previous work was a little too ‘fluffy’.