Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz

by Adam Leach Rating:8 Release Date:2010-10-11

Nothings ever straightforward with Sufjan Stevens. For a start he has one of those names that strikes fear into teachers when reading the register - Is it SUF-JAN, SOOF-YAN or SUF-YAN? Then there's his ADD approach to song-craft - first he was electronica, then lo-fi, then folk before he took a seasonal break in the world of the Christmas album. And now he's even playing tricks with his album titles, as Age of Adz is actually pronounced Age of Odds.

Kicking aside the pronunciation issue, Age of Adz is another eclectic collection of songs by the Michigan born singer/songwriter. It sees him draw upon many of the previous styles he has employed and bring them together into a musical pick 'n' mix, with all the poor value giant pear drops taken out. Opening proceedings is 'Futile Devices', a smouldering little number with acoustic finger-picking, far-off vocals and beautiful piano lines. It serves as a smooth transition from last album Illinois into this new offering.

Things take a turn for the leftfield with 'Too Much' and its apocolyptic orchestra feel with outer space synths, electric drums, choral singers and screeching trumpets. Title track 'Age of Adz' is an epic eight minute song which flicks between full on orchestral cacophonies and stripped down vocal vs guitar jousts. On 'Now That I'm Older', he breaks through the already wide barriers of his experimental side as he conjures a haunting melody of choral singers and distant pianos whilst he sings about looking back on things as an older man. It has an air of a song that's stuck in the fabric of time.

'Vesuvius' sees him step back from the void a little with a more standard song; it still has a varied mix of sounds - synths, choir, pipes - but they're dialled back and allowed to come through clearer. Drawing things to a close is 'Impossible Soul' where Stevens flexes his creative muscles for more than 23 minutes, drawing in every instrument, vocal styling and tempo used throughout the record to create one last big, no not big, monumentally massive hurrah which unleashes sensual orgy on the ears. But wait... There's more; there's a secret track - secret track alert! It's a beautiful little hark back to his pop style of five years ago.

With The Age of Adz, Sufjan Stevens has turned the weird and experimental up to 11. If it wasn't for his distinctive vocals it would be hard to believe it was the same man who made Illinois. For his longtime fans, this will come as a welcome treat; for those who came across him on the back of his more commercial hits, it might well be a step too far. But that's what you should expect with him - the unexpected.

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