Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review: Sufjan Stevens- The Age of Adz

In 2005, I grew weary of radio rock. Very few bands were speaking to me and I'd had a shitty time in life. I was in a strict school and had the world's worst best friend. But I remember it as the year I finally came into my own. I evolved from music and I think it had something to do with me finally hitting puberty. Going through all the best of '05 lists, two records kept showing up. One was My Morning Jacket's "Z", an album I consider to be the best pure rock and roll record since Seattle's heyday. The other was "Illinoise" by Sufjan Stevens. "Illinois" continues to show up in lists of best albums of the past decade, and rightfully so. I wasn't one to go gaga over it, but it was different from anything I heard and I always felt compelled to revisit it and see what I missed. Flash forward five years later and Stevens has finally released a proper follow up to it, and it's not even about a state.

Part of the reason I always admired Sufjan Stevens was because he used everything in his music and made it work somehow. It was never mindblowing to me, but I could never help but think whatever he was doing was pretty damned original compared to other music my peers were listening too. Now more than ever, Sufjan is using the electronics. "The Age of Adz" sounds like Trent Reznor and Owen Pallett got together, thought of all the weird ideas possible, put some surreal lyrics and came out with an album. Though Stevens has a better voice than the two, you can't help but think some of these ideas weren't borrrowed.

The album isn't for the faint of heart either, it has a million different things going on at once, sort of like the mashups my brother had been making lately, but that's the genius of the album. So much at one time only makes you want to explore this album again and again, it's a trap, but it's worth it. "Too Much" and "Age of Adz" build up like epics only to have that same quality feel that you got from the earlier albums. Filled with electronic beats and a sometimes whiny voice, the strings make things pop out more than usual, making it for a rush and a head scratching listen. But the beats are so strong, you're almost wondering why Sufjan Stevens hasn't produced a hip hop album or why Kanye West and some of the shitty rappers like Kid Cudi who think samples of a indie song are the gateway of making a good song, haven't gone to this well. It's brilliant, and I forsee a lot of that happening in the near futre if this album is as popular as I hope it will be.

The songs have a similar formula, and that's not saying they sound the same, but Stevens has found many ways to combine hip hop beats with strings and surreal images to the point where he made a well versed 11 song, 74 minute album. No these songs won't be played in clubs, and it's going to be an awesome task performing these live, but that's the point. Sufjan Stevens was always doing things and making music that you weren't hearing anywhere else, and in a age where nothing is original and everyone sounds like everyone else, Sufjan isn't breaking that mold, but he's making us believe he is.

Epic is the only word to describe this album. Perhaps there's nothing more epic than a 25 minute song to close your album. No, it's not seven minutes, then 15 minutes of silence before coming back, this bad boy goes all the way through. What easily could've been five songs for an EP, is a whole damn track. The funny thing is, it's not boring for one damn minute. Each part of the song has a reason to exist, and it brings together everything he's been doing great for his whole career. Art rock, baroque pop, electronica, you name it, every phase is covered in at least one portion of this 25 minute titan named "Impossible Soul". But that's the sign of a good musician, you can make an epic this long and not have it lag, it fact it's pretty damn interesting and if you have the time, it's worth several listens.

I always thought guys who listened to Sufjan Stevens were college dorks or people who were generally smarter than me. It's not entirely true, because there really is something for everyone. It's not something to listen to once, it's not you either get it or you don't. You owe it to yourself to let it sink it and have it overtake you at least once. Sufjan Stevens is one of the greatest American songwriters of the past two decades, and you owe it to him and everyone to give this album your time. He's doing something only a few people are actually doing, the trick is, he's probably the best at doing it.

**** 1/2 out of *****

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