Sufjan’s age of autotune

Courtesy Marzuki Stevens

“The Age of Adz” is pop-folk-indie sensation Sufjan Stevens’ first proper LP since “Illinoise.” His other recent release, the “All Delighted People” EP, is a freewheeling masterpiece. Does this new album match up to the EP, or possibly even “Illinoise,” the best-reviewed album of 2005?

Yes and no. “The Age of Adz” is refreshing, bizarre, outstanding and disappointing all at once. It offers a bit of what you expect from Stevens: His clear, delicate voice and a youthful chorus soaring over a symphony of brass, pianos and woodwinds. But it also integrates a heavy dose of electronic instrumentation. A lesser artist would sound silly even attempting to mix folk and electronic music, but this album largely succeeds.

“Vesuvius” and the title track are gorgeous, intricate sing-alongs with electronic samples that blend seamlessly with the more traditional instruments. The crescendos and sing-along choruses are reminiscent of other Stevens anthems like “Jacksonville” and “Chicago.”

Another highlight, “I Walked,” sounds like a Postal Service song, complete with tender declarations of love and a steady, melancholy beat.  Lesser tracks include “Futile Devices,” a quiet, stripped down piece that is affecting but that never gets off the ground, and “Too Much,” a catchy but predictable song despite its ever-building beat.

The album closes with the 26-minute long “Impossible Soul.” Its epic scope holds interest through its many movements that vary from electric guitar jamming to gang choruses over poppy electronic samples. Unfortunately, he uses Autotune at multiple points, giving the song an unbecoming techno feel; it also makes little sense considering Stevens’s natural vocal talent.

The lyrics are often existential, a fairly new trend. He laments that he has “lost the will to fight” on the title track and he swears on “I Want to Be Well.” He still injects Christian themes throughout, but they tend to sound out of place. Lyrics like “you know you want to get real, get right, with the lord” sung over a dance beat sound like a terribly un-hip attempt to make Christianity seem hip.

“The Age of Adz” has little mainstream appeal and is probably not as good as “Seven Swans” or “Illinoise,” but it is nevertheless a great, innovative addition to an already impressive discography.

William McAuliffe may be contacted at wmcauliffe@themiamihurricane.com.

Rating: 3.5/4 stars

Label: Asthmatic Kitty
Released: Oct. 12

William McAuliffe may be contacted at wmcauliffe@themiamihurricane.com.

October 25, 2010


William McAuliffe

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