By Matt Kelly
It’s fair to say that listeners who were left starry-eyed by Sufjan Stevens’ 2005 breakout release Illinois were not expecting a follow-up like this. In fact, they were probably expecting another edition of Stevens’ much-hyped “50 states project” (Rhode Island, anyone? What about Oregon?). Five long years later, however, Sufjan Stevens continues to keep everyone guessing with his long-awaited comeback release, The Age of Adz.
Named after the artwork by apocalyptic artist Royal Roberston, the album finds Stevens shelving his banjo and flutes and implementing a mind-dizzying array of synthesizers, computer-generated sounds and glitches, and swooning horns. It presents an exercise in auditory endurance for the listener as much as it shows off new material that Stevens’ fans have been desiring for nearly half a decade. This new album, once you’re able to make your way through the layers upon layers of sonic storms and endless melodies, holds a lot of insight into the mindset of Sufjan Stevens, as he has kept mostly out of the limelight for the past few years.
The first four songs on The Age of Adz are definitely the most accessible songs for casual listeners. After that, the songs go a lot deeper and are definitely more trippy and abstract.
The album’s last track, “Impossible Soul,” breaks all the rules by stretching for an unthinkable 25 minutes. That’s right: 25. “Impossible Soul” is an unconventional narrative that may turn off a lot of people, but there is something to be gained if you’re able to make it all the way through.
The Age of Adz is a completely unconventional release based on Sufjan Stevens’ prior works. While it may alienate some of his fans, it will probably also acquire a lot of new ones based on its crossover into the dance and techno genres. It’s certainly not what we envisioned when we sang along to “Chicago” all those years ago, but its ambition and musical creativity certainly stand up to the rest of Steven’s celebrated catalogue.
Matt Kelly is a freshman sport media major. Sufjan has a special place in his heart. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.