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82 of 95 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sufjan Stevens - Bold experimentation and priceless idiosyncrasy,
4.5 stars

The new album by the "coolest musician in America" (Sunday Times) starts off by flattering to deceive. "Futile Devices" the opening track to Sufjan Stevens new set of songs could have happily appeared on the outstanding "Seven Swans" and is a gentle bubbling track with a fragile folksy beauty which Stevens can appear to evoke with consummate ease. So...
Published on October 12, 2010 by Red on Black

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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a classic, but...
After repeated listenings, I can say that Adz is neither as bad as I thought nor as good as I hoped. Another reviewer described it as "undisciplined," and I totally agree. This album combines every sonic technique Sufjan has ever used, from the woodwind trills of "A Sun Came" to the electronica of "Rabbit" to the toy marching band of "Michigan" and "Illinois" to the...
Published on October 26, 2010 by R. Berman


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82 of 95 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sufjan Stevens - Bold experimentation and priceless idiosyncrasy,, October 12, 2010
This review is from: The Age of Adz (Audio CD)
4.5 stars

The new album by the "coolest musician in America" (Sunday Times) starts off by flattering to deceive. "Futile Devices" the opening track to Sufjan Stevens new set of songs could have happily appeared on the outstanding "Seven Swans" and is a gentle bubbling track with a fragile folksy beauty which Stevens can appear to evoke with consummate ease. So then Stevens is clearly going to compensate for his abandonment of his 50 state album cycle promise with a return to earlier glories?

No such chance, indeed while the ""he Age of Adz" has many transcendent moments, this is primarily an album of electronic soundscapes, whose trajectory can be loosely traced back in Stevens musical past to 2002's largely electronic Chinese Zodiac concept album "Enjoy your Rabbit". It is therefore not surprising that the critical reception to this album thus far has been in places bemused and quizzical (and in Uncut's case characterised by outright hostility questioning whether our hero is "a genius or just a show off").

The line between originality and over indulgence is of course a thin one but in Stevens case his ability to make his music soar is the special ingredient. For example the second track "Too much" is Sufjan Stevens meets Yeasayer and a joyous electronic concoction. The funky electronica of "I walked" revolves around a trip hop big synth loop, combined with Stevens trademark angelic vocals and surreal lyrics where he asks "Lover, will you look from me now/I'm already dead/but I've come to explain/why I left such a mess on the floor". Other highlights also include the gently rolling 'Vesuvius' which concentrates on giving self advice and messages to himself plus "Bad communication" a short beautiful fragment of a song. The title track is alternatively; erm what's the word I'm looking for, yes thats it ....mental! A tribute of sorts to the weird abstract art of Louisiana based Royal Robertson it starts off with great Wagnerian voices then Stevens singing through cat calls and symphonic whistles over an eight minute hodgepodge powerhouse that has to heard to be believed not least the lovely acoustic end.

And then we have the final track the 25 minute (I kid you not!) "The Impossible Soul" which is a mini album in its own right and a sort of Tubular Bells for the Twitter Generation which wanders far and wide. It starts conventionally and then leads into a strange exhortation where Stevens cheekily pleads with us "Don't be distracted", has a lovely vocoder section, at 13 minutes sounds like Kraftwerk for 30 seconds and then has one of those "Illinois" style chants for a further 8 minutes around the refrain of "boy we can do much more together" underpinned by all sort of beeps, electronic synths and weird machinations. It finishes with a fairly straightforward but gorgeous Stevens song with the "boy" lyrical refrain back again. Oh look, listen to it yourself and begin to connect with a song which has sections which will variously bore you, amaze you and often leave you in tears.

The "Age of Adz" is album devoid of discipline, restraint or brevity. It is a smorgasbord of ideas some of which work brilliantly, others fail gallantly and a few never get out of the starting gate. Certainly this a very different proposition to the mix of orchestrated packed bravado combined with the wintry acoustics of "Michigan" and "Illinois". Yet if the masterful experimentation of both those albums left you gasping for more "The Age of Adz" should hold no fear for you for this is pop or rock music in its loosest sense. Last year Stevens wrote a Stravinsky inspired album dedicated to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and only two months ago he released an EP entitled "All you delighted people" which extended to well over an hour. Stevens is a composer packed with musical ideas some great, some claptrap, some challenging and some sublime. What is the truth is that there no one else out there working this distinctive seam in this manner. Thereby "The Age of Adz" is full testimony to Stevens uniqueness and it should be a cause of great celebration and rejoicing for this is not so much an album release as a musical event.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utter Brilliance, October 12, 2010
This review is from: The Age of Adz (MP3 Music)
Sufjan Stevens is one of the most interesting musicians that I know of. The fifty states project, a symphony devoted to an expressway, Christmas EP's, the list of intrigue goes on and on. After dabbling back and forth with the idea of ending his public music career for the last couple years, his All Delighted People EP surprised the heck out of most of us. Then the announcement came about The Age of Adz, and years of built of anticipation have culminated into this LP. No, I'm not exaggerating.

Technically Sufjan Stevens has released several projects since his earth shattering Illinois album, but this is the first one people are truly looking at. It's not outtakes, remixes, a compilation, an EP, or symphony. It's a bonafide, brand new, traditional album with lyrics, music, and interesting cover art. This album does exactly what it needs to do.

Though to most people it will probably not hold up in comparison to Illinois, in terms of importance I see the two albums of equal. As if he needed to do so, this album PROVES Stevens' unending skill at songwriting while at the same time exploring new territory. Do many other musicians maintain the balance between creativity and originality as well as Sufjan? I can't think of an example.

I'm not going to go through each song or award the album a number out of ten; there are probably 9000 websites you can go to for that. I am going to say, however, that this album is a spectacular work of art, one of the best albums I have ever listened to, and does not disappoint at all. It's different, but in the sense that each Jones soda flavor is unique yet equally satisfying. The five minutes or so starting at 13:00 of the track "Impossible Soul" are possibly the best five minutes my ears have consumed in years.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Progression, October 20, 2010
This review is from: The Age of Adz (MP3 Music)
Sufjan has done it again. Any fan of Sufjan should appreciate the progression and development of the artist. The Age of Adz is sensory nirvana and a joy to rediscover over and over again. For those new to the wonderful sounds of Mr. Stevens, be sure to check out his other equally compelling work.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is NEW stuff, folks, you haven't heard anything like it, November 4, 2010
By 
This review is from: The Age of Adz (Audio CD)
I've been a marginal fan of Sufjan Stevens for several years and own most of his albums, but nothing could have prepared me for the groundbreaking, innovative leap the artist has made with this one. I truly believe that this is *new music*, as in *sounds/styles we've never heard before.*

How to describe it? Not sure. It's electronica, to be sure, but it's also accessible and melodic. It's a wall of sound textures overlain atop Stevens' sensitive and poignant songwriting. It's cosmic and spacey, almost like a new genre of progressive rock. And yet it's also earthbound, mining emotional responses you don't expect. There are drum machines, orchestral arrangements, angelic choirs, and hooks galore. "Orchestral electronica folk songs" is the best way I can describe it.

As for the negative reviews posted here, I'm befuddled. The nay-sayers must not be very adventurous with their musical tastes.

I've been listening to the album non-stop for three days now and I'm still blown away. It's addictive. It's new. It's brilliant.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Judgement of the Moon & Stars (Sufjan's Tune), November 4, 2010
This review is from: The Age of Adz (MP3 Music)
He's taken us through the States of Michigan and Illinois - studiously, charmingly, unflagging graciousness all the way - and now Sufjan Stevens has radically revised the itinerary for an unforeseen intergalactic launch to uncharted destinations, to a place that might just have to be called "The State of My Heart". And it's a territory at least as expansive as the imagined Universe, apparently.

A long track-by-track appreciation follows, but here's the bottom line: THE AGE OF ADZ is a concept album that takes as its subject the human experience of that one greatest thing that remains: Love. Awkward enough to type that out here as an anonymous reviewer, but Sufjan Stevens the artist has gone and built a veritable public monument of an album around it, on it, with it, from it, to it, for it.

And he really has done it proper, inside and out, backwards and forwards, with his heart hanging out.

From inner space of the Soul to outer space of the Cosmos, this album is an aural and conceptual collision of scale worthy of the task that it meets head-on. And it's crafted and sequenced with more discipline and unfaltering intuition than might be apparent from cursory and piecemeal assessments. For the commission that it has taken on (Cher auto-tunes it to you from the year 1998: "Do you belieeeve in life after love?"), this record arrives whole, a clear dispatch from some very far-flung outposts.

So here we go, a Lonely Planet overview of the trip I took on THE AGE OF ADZ:

"FUTILE DEVICES" is, for a melodist and lyricist of Sufjan's gifts and abilities, essentially a throwaway, and definitely a throwback. As opening track, though, it's in the right place as a kind of dedication and epigram: scrapbook mementos of friendship & intimacy, scrawled memories of warmth, tucked away in a safe place, close to the body, before launching off into deep-freeze outer limits.

And a beleaguered lyricist's frank admission, right up front: "words are futile devices".

"TOO MUCH" opens the concept album proper with synthesizer squelches like a baptism of primordial slime. Something's definitely changing, mutation looks to be inevitable - but it's impossible to assess or prevent damage while sloshing around in this predicament. So this track, along with the two that follow, thematically and collectively sound like valiant Boy Scout attempts at speedy extrication and escape. Both the smartest and the dumbest move, and all perfectly necessary, perhaps, at this emotional juncture.

"TOO MUCH" plays like a State of the Union address on Love's falling out, growing progressively tenser and more serious as it proceeds. The war is definitely on and we're being forced to take it into outer space - plans and coordinates are on the screen for your review.

But all such formalities and strategies are prematurely and effectively blasted to Kingdom Come when the next track, "AGE OF ADZ", sneaks into the control room on four computer beeps and just pushes the button: a bombastic Apocalypse of Love's recriminations, existential panic escalating into too-hasty grasping at always-imminent Transcendence, ending only with more mournful explanations and self-recriminations - alone with a banjo, crouched, maybe, in a bomb shelter. And if that sounds like a real pretentious and overloaded assessment, it's more or less what this track merits. Overblown and precarious, it also makes perfect conceptual and emotional sense in its place and context.

With such grand and necessary meltdowns out of the way (for the time being), "I WALKED" is the track that soberly straightens itself out in the mirror and gets ready for its ostensible swan song. A heartrending and dignified farewell performance, attractive in the measured sadness of its earnest grievances, this is the point at which most well-meaning friends would administer warm hugs and admiring pats on the back, fire off text message salutes, all in praise of emotional maturity, courage and honesty, and what else have you.

And at this stage, a still-aching, heart-wounded soul would be dazed and weakened enough to really want to believe all that.

And it is also from here on that THE AGE OF ADZ, to these critical ears, starts to become really interesting and involving. The early stages of network consultation and public demonstration done, whoever now pushes on, pushes on alone, by dint of sheer emotional fortitude and crack intuition.

In terms of songwriting craft and production polish, the next track, "NOW THAT I'M OLDER", along with "BAD COMMUNICATION", is one of the few obvious bummers on the album. Titled as a coming-of-age number, it seems to convey that process as a kind of slow spiritual diffusion into the ether, a really depressed and melodramatic emotional wallow, in other words.

These two lesser tracks, however, appropriately represent the emotional nadirs of the album's song-cycle, and they serve their purpose well in repetitious and desultory melodies, prosaic and scattershot lyrics, dragging tempos and haphazard production. Thematically, they sound like the sad diminishing returns of long shut-in days. And also significantly, they come on either end of what is arguably the album's masterpiece, track six, "GET REAL GET RIGHT".

There's that old religious adage about the Almighty being near to those poor and lowly in spirit, and on the fantastic "GET REAL GET RIGHT" - which opens with fat beats overlaid with the sound of syncopated human hiccups, like someone finally regaining his breath after a bout of terrible weeping - it's as if the drawn-out days of an aimless depression have been graciously interrupted by decree of some truly divine intervention. In sudden wakefulness, certain veils are lifted, all the necessary lenses float and align in place, and like that old Television song says, "My eyes are like telescopes".

The lyrics risk preachy grandstanding in their telegraphic prophesying, but "GET REAL GET RIGHT" powers past such pitfalls by the heat of genuine moral conviction, the press of personal culpability. The performance here is totally committed, the production bang-on, and incredibly enough, the whole thing seems to accomplish exactly what it set out to do, something like a heat-seeking missile compared to the mistimed A-bomb of "AGE OF ADZ" a few tracks earlier. The synthesizers at the thunderous climax are excellently deployed, mixed to maximum effectiveness, like heavenly mecha robots wreaking righteous havoc across morally torpid metropolises the world over.

All in all, this track is just unimpeachable, the moral and spiritual centre of an album whose concept could not have held so strongly without this kind of lightning rod of conviction.

But then, because no mortal can indefinitely sustain himself at such levels of blazing prophetic inspiration, there comes the severe and necessary comedown of "BAD COMMUNICATION", with opening synths like platypus farts and lyrics aptly demonstrating the relational breakdown of its title: one-sided conversations with a person suddenly a stranger, sharing no such moral or spiritual compunctions, middle-of-the-night convictions breaking down in the bleak light of the workaday rush.

And so, on "VESUVIUS", the fledgling prophet's mantle is set aside for the recovery of that more familiar calling - artist & composer - and Sufjan Stevens slowly rouses himself through a kind of musical pep talk, one that also seems to have been conceived as a dirge for his own funeral. He's rather dragging his feet to the task that still lies ahead. Because any prophet or artist worth his salt knows that the expressed truth he aims for - prophetic, artistic, or otherwise - will effectively injure his own self before landing with any clarity or conviction in the ears and hearts of his listeners. And then, hopefully, the healing reply of vindication, redemption.

Sample lyric: "Why does it have to be so hard?"

The next two tracks, "ALL FOR MYSELF" and "I WANT TO BE WELL", close out the album's first long section (before the 25-minute suite that is "IMPOSSIBLE SOUL") and they also introduce a level of carnality and profanity not previously encountered in the Sufjan Stevens catalogue. The artist here is digging deep, into genuinely subconscious grounds as well as those intentionally obscured, and the results are appropriately discomfiting, upsetting and stirring. If, someday, someone, in the eggheaded spirit of this long album review, should undertake a book-length critical study entitled "Sufjan's Vision of Sin", these two tracks will be the early go-to texts. They signal the kind of wholly unexpected but then entirely coherent artistic development that harks back and links up to previous works while marking a decisive departure from and qualification of same.

So if that very lovely, lyrical yarn about predatory wasps and best boyhood friends from Illinois days was something like Sufjan's "We Two Boys Together Clinging", "ALL FOR MYSELF" here sounds like a dark thematic extraction from "Calamus", that cycle of poems wherein good gray Walt Whitman knits his brow and broods that "an athlete is enamoured of me - and I of him", but "toward him there is something fierce and terrible in me, eligible to burst forth". Hairy chests replace youthful limbs wet from the swim, and the whole song is frankly orgasmic in conception and execution, all shuddering starts and stops and shifting rhythms before another ride on the cresting, crashing crescendos of the chorus proper.

("All For Myself": about as succinct and forthright a motto as any about the need, sometimes, to just get there. And, as with Whitman, it isn't entirely clear if the "there" of this sensual and ritualized camaraderie entails actual physical consummation, or some other kind of metaphysical transportation vivid and gripping enough to boggle and confuse the flesh into chaste credulity. For the always disciplined but constantly ravenous soul of the lifelong artist, fixedly attuned to the quality of rarefied experience, probably a prudent but potent mix of both, with an unmistakable tip toward the latter.)

As for the bouncy and manic and altogether traumatic "I WANT TO BE WELL", let us now think back for a moment to Michigan days, to the shimmering, reverent tones of "O GOD, WHERE ARE YOU NOW?", with Sufjan pondering the resurrection of the dead and earnestly wondering, "Would my body stay the same?" And so now, in this new song, thrashing madly against the living-nightmare effects of "the pill or demon / As my body changes", it really seems as good a time as any to break out the serious profanity, if only to let the oppressor know that this is one body that won't be going down without a fight.

This track speaks of irreparably altered hopes and dreams, terrible abuses and betrayals of trust, and the desperate, too-late realization that mind & body & heart & soul are of a single human piece, and that to lose or forfeit even one of these to theft or treachery is to somehow become bereft of it all, both temporarily and permanently, in differing ways.

Who's to say how far Sufjan Stevens has had to go to such places personally and actually? But as an artist and writer of songs, at the very least, this track demonstrates that Sufjan Stevens has arrived at a place where he is able to both explicitly and elliptically convey a more sprawling and visceral kind of human empathy than when he was crafting sensitive if shrewdly appointed narratives about desolate middle-aged citizens who drive busted-up snowmobiles and shop at the K-Mart. That particular difference, from this vantage point, seems like the difference between a gifted literary man and a real brotherly witness.

As far as track sequencing goes, this album is going to work really well on double LP, potentially an even more interactively emotional experience on turntable than on CD or MP3. Because after the rave-up and freak-out of "I WANT TO BE WELL", a moment's pause and quiet reflection would only serve to heighten the plangent gorgeousness of the opening minutes of "IMPOSSIBLE SOUL", the long and varied track that waits on the other side of the vinyl.

Opening with tentative, evenly paced keyboard tones, the song starts out like someone getting back up on shaky legs, taking deliberate but cautious steps toward recovered mobility. And while I've usually demurred from fawning critics' talk about Sufjan's "gorgeous vocals" and especially his "delicate falsetto", what Sufjan the singer does here in the opening section of "IMPOSSIBLE SOUL" is touched, I think, by something like technical and spiritual transcendence, word and performance pouring out together like the very marrow of a human soul. The only dramatic equivalent I can pull up, really, is Gena Rowlands in the movie A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, coming home to loved ones after the breakdown that saw her signed off to a long stay at the institution.

Open your heart and mind; lend even a little bit of your imagination, emotion and free-association to the opening minutes of this track (and to every minute that comes after, for that matter), and your experience and understanding of THE AGE OF ADZ might well be transformed for you right there. This is the sound of Love being calmly and confidently affirmed even in the passing of its accustomed realities, with the hard-earned knowledge that Love really is that one thing that can only be defended by an absolute lack of defenses.

And when that first distorted guitar/synth break kicks in, like an injured mecha robot trying hard to juice it for just one last mission, with an attendant chorus of sympathetic angels blessing the effort even as they gently relieve it of a wasting struggle, the whole thing doesn't just soar on a musical level, it also attains a kind of thematic resplendence that hovers and spreads out over the album's concept as a whole. It's not just the most beautifully realized moment of THE AGE OF ADZ but perhaps of Sufjan Stevens' entire oeuvre to date. And, really, for all that has gone before in this album, that's exactly how it should work: a real artistic coup in the want of other needful forms of justice, a rare-enough consolation against the failures of just plain old human decency.

The remaining twenty-some minutes of "IMPOSSIBLE SOUL" are largely successful, canny and affecting, and again, thematically coherent. But the theme and concept here is the life that indeed goes on after Love's practical passing, with resultant words and music that are appropriately randomized and restless. The Christian writer Oswald Chambers defines Love as "the outpouring of one personality in fellowship with another personality" (an explanation that might resound with particular profundity and poignancy only to those actually caught in the immediate thralls or throes of either finding or losing Love), and in the thematic absence and severance of such tender loving fellowship between human personalities joined in coupled mutuality, the latter sections of "IMPOSSIBLE SOUL" play out like an eclectic soundtrack to the far-flung wanderings of a modern solitary soul, subsisting on a largely indiscriminate diet of mass media information, pop culture reference, and an infinitely expanding catalogue of endlessly reproduced art and entertainment, all remotely accessed and never not available. Maybe that's stretching it a bit, but in more mundane terms, something like a newly single person passively working through self-intuited psychotherapy while clicking through the 5,000 channels of digital satellite television.

And so even after the assaultive optimism of a hyped-up and truly infectious group dance number (industrious amateurs the internet over are currently editing down the perfect five-minute track for their next humanist masterpiece of mass cooperation and collective giddiness), the sinister carnival synths and haunted house strings kick in and take over, and, at the risk of too much outrageousness, the slowed-down vocal track here may or may not be that large man beckoning from the doorway, standing there in his clown suit, insisting, "Boy, we can do much more together..." Those are the bad places the mind goes, maybe, when it skips on sleep and opts for stupefaction, absorbing true-crime TV in the middle of the night. The whole thing runs close to ending with a droning in the ears - like the sound of a depleted human conscience that has, indeed, allowed itself to be distracted.

The epilogue tune cuts in right at the end, and it's a very pretty composition, though pointedly chilly in performance and with lyrics that potentially upset and reverse whole sections of that which came before. Are these words and sentiments being presented detachedly, as Exhibit A extractions from a "Dear Sufjan" letter? Or is the songwriter here faking some kind of unthinkable Borgesian narrative trick, he himself having been the primary scoundrel and heartbreaker all along? Flip-flopping gender nouns will be keeping fangirls and fanboys squirrelly and guessing for some time yet.

Man or woman, boy or girl, friend or lover. And in any case, this closing performance projects hard and cold on the memory of that one someone who went out leaving the impression of a Sphinx - a gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun - and the artist here, now truly older in many ways, elects to bow out, at the end of this long commission, emulating same.

Hats and caps off, kids. Sufjan Stevens has really done it, with what looks to have taken planet-sized determination and commitment, returning with what might be, as a unified work of singular personal vision, a career-best to date.

I didn't even consider how the Royal Robertson stuff might tie in with all this, and don't really plan to any time soon (aren't you glad and relieved?), but it's pretty obvious that this album has been much more than a "love & theft" kind of deal. Concept or no concept, the premise and proposal are plain: Sometimes you just have to make it personal, make it inevitable, no regrets, no looking back. And no matter what else, whatever sights & whatever sounds: Keep your heart & soul with you, all the way through, even after the end, dear Special Friend.

And did I really have to go and post this entire ordeal here, taxing everyone's browser space, just inviting internet ire? As an oversized counterpoint to some pretty curt dismissals also to be found around these here parts, yes. For the ephemeral enjoyment of mouse-scrolling over a five-star rating, also yes. And now, at the end, again yes, for the more substantial pleasure of concluding this honestly unforeseen writing, getting this truly uncanny record out of my system for a while, and to reiterate once more: Five Stars, Sufjan Stevens. Five Stars, and for an album like this, hitting a lot of us upside the heart and head, getting some of us back up on quicker, more nimble feet, for delivering it on this side of the new decade, Five Big Stars and the Moon as well.

Be well, musical friends!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All good things take time. Albun: Brilliant, October 17, 2010
This review is from: The Age of Adz (Audio CD)
I would like to put this simply and state that I just recently saw him in concert, and it changed everything. I was very skeptical about this album and missed his bajo and guitar melodies, but I promise you if you truly take time to listen to the album and experience it in a musically provocative environment, it will blow you away. Read a little about it. It's about the artist Royal Robertson who was a schizophrenic, and the music relates to his art and life. Watch an interview or read an article where Sufjan explains his take on what you need to keep in mind when you listen to it. When Sufjan set aside time in his concert to explain to the audience what the album meant to him, it gave me entirely new perspective on the way I perceived the album. The metallic, deranged noises add to the mystique of the subject, and it creates an ethereal mood that honestly engulfs you whole. The casual Sufjan fan may never understand, but if you truly love Sufjan Stevens as I do, you will allow this album to amaze you every time you press play.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vinyl version only: last song is cut off, November 12, 2010
This review is from: Age of Adz (2xLP) (Vinyl)
Just an FYI: "Impossible Soul" is shortened about 3 minutes on the vinyl version, with the sweet, acoustic ending of the song completely absent. This is presumably due to the constraints of vinyl (though classical albums seem to fit 30 minutes on a side easily!), but it does ruin the flow of that very sweet song, which comes full circle in the end. Doesn't matter much to me; I'd still want the vinyl version, but I post this comment in case it makes a difference to any of you. Age of Adz (2xLP)
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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a classic, but..., October 26, 2010
By 
This review is from: The Age of Adz (MP3 Music)
After repeated listenings, I can say that Adz is neither as bad as I thought nor as good as I hoped. Another reviewer described it as "undisciplined," and I totally agree. This album combines every sonic technique Sufjan has ever used, from the woodwind trills of "A Sun Came" to the electronica of "Rabbit" to the toy marching band of "Michigan" and "Illinois" to the folk of "Seven Swans" to the drum-heavy ten minute version of "You Are the Blood," which Sufjan offered on the "Dark is the Night" compilation album in 2009. That track is not on Adz, but it captures the kitchen sink spirit of Adz. It's as if Sufjan just discovered a TR-808 drum pad and doesn't know how to control it. As a result, Adz's sci-fi drum tracks are often hideously overbearing, like a soup with far too much pepper in it. The vocals are often pitched in an uncomfortable, pinched part of his range which reverb cannot entirely obscure.

If the music has been layered too much, the lyrics seem underbaked. The track "I Want to Be Well" consists mainly of a looped vulgarity. "Impossible Soul" has a three minute segment that repeats a single line over and over and over. Gone are story-songs like "Casimir Pulaski Day" and character sketches like "The Mistress Witch of McClure" or "Romulus." Instead Adz has romantic songs, but the references are so veiled and vague that they fail to paint word pictures for the listener the way his older work often did. Sexual ambiguities abound as usual, with the opening track confessing, "I think of you as my brother" and the closing track declaring, "Girl, I want nothing less than pleasure." Song titles are short and overly obvious, almost as if he's specifically trying to deflate expectations of what we should expect from him.

That said, some decent songs lurk underneath the clutter. The opener "Futile Devices" shows that Sufjan still knows perfectly well how to craft a gorgeous acoustic ballad. "Vesuvius" captures the _Illinois_ gang vocal spirit inside a lyric about infatuation. The wall of vocals on "All For Myself" adds challenging dissonance to what's otherwise a gentle piano track. Even the monstrous 25 minute "Impossible Soul" is really a suite of connected songs, with the opening and closing minutes comprising catchy tracks that can be easily isolated through MP3 editors today.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Okay, so it's not for everyone., November 7, 2010
This review is from: The Age of Adz (Audio CD)
First things first. Sufjan Stevens is not just a writer of pretty ballads. If you took "A Sun Came" and mixed it with that first Rabbit album, this is pretty much what you would get. And seriously, listen to the song "Seven Swans." Don't get me wrong, I love a pretty Sufjan ballad but A) Those pretty ballads say some incredibly uncomfortable things and B) Sometimes pretty ballads don't accomplish your objective. Besides, the dude needs some room to evolve.

I get where the bad reviews are coming from. The first time I listened to "The Age of Adz" I had a total Stravinsky moment...massive anxiety, heart palpitations, the whole nine yards. And then when we got to all that phunking around in "I want to be well," I thought he'd totally jumped the shark. (BTW, It's not an endless loop of f-bombs, but the old F does show up at a pivotal and easily discerned moment.) It's hard to get to the heart of the thing when you have to wade through the endless waves of electronic pulsing and crazy shouting people, especially when the only lyrics you can discern sound like they were written by an angry 12 year old. But you gotta get through the layers. You have to see the album in its crazy, schizophrenic entirety. It is an uncomfortable space-journey, super-dark and difficult, but at its heart this album is the brilliant and intensely self-critical work of a mind uncomfortable with what it sees within.

So the best thing I can say is that you have to listen to this one with an open and deliberate mind. Check out Royal Robertson's artwork...the music makes a lot more sense once you've seen it. And if it doesn't click for you, that's fine. It's not for everyone and it shouldn't have to be.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Captivating and engaging, October 16, 2010
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This review is from: The Age of Adz (MP3 Music)
I don't want to like this album. I was annoyed by BQE and frustrated that it'd been so long since Sufjan had released any true new material. Illinoise is that preternatural, near-perfect album--with a depth and character and texture all its own, with whimsy and silliness but an overarching narrative and true grace--accessible, delicious music.

The Age of Adz is neither accessible, nor whimsical, nor near-perfect. Instead, it takes a dark turn: built around the artwork of paranoid schizophrenic artist Royal Robertson, it is at once jarring and frustrating, but taunts with a depth and engagement unlike that of anything in recent memory.

This is not friendly music. It is not easy listening. It is a journey, and an uphill one at that. It challenges you to keep up and tolerate it a bit more, offering its hand, letting you get comfortable with its strange grasp before tearing it away and slapping you in the face.

But there is something captivating throughout the entire album. A few songs drag in a way that forces me to consider skipping them every time, but I find that's because incredibly slow songs run that risk with me unless I'm in a particular mood. Underneath the electronica, the pop and circumstance, the experimental robot overlord swells, there lies a consistent thread: it begs you to really listen to what's happening here. It wants you to dive deeper. If you stick with it, it will force you to re-examine the elements you wrote off as silly or masturbatory or obnoxious and see that they're placed with a tweezer and magnifying glass instead of scattershot against the wall to see what would stick. And that's the real victory of The Age of Adz.

This album is entirely not for everyone. It's not for most people. There's a completely decent possibility it's not even for me. But I keep listening to it, discovering there's more to it each pass, and finding the complex melodies and strange noises and pops and flares are stuck in my head. And I don't want them to leave.
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The Age of Adz
The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens (Audio CD - 2010)
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