Republished from Isaac Bruce Springsteen
In 2005, Sufjan Stevens released Illinois, the second installment of his fifty-part, album-a-state series. He then stated he never actually intended to complete the project and spent the next five years releasing a “bonus disc” for Illinois, a multimedia project based on the Brooklyn-Queens expressway, a Christmas compilation and an EP. Out Sept. 12, The Age of Adz marks the long-awaited LP follow-up to Illinois.
Stevens is notoriously gifted at sounding both grandiose and immediate. Yet, at first listen, The Age of Adz seems almost aimless and discordant; it’s not exactly an easy listen. Synthesized elements are much more prominent—Stevens’s voice is even auto-tuned at one point—and, while melodies seem to be floating around, they appear incoherent for the most part.
After multiple listens, however, the clutter starts to clear. The Age of Adz is like a puzzle: once the eccentric production and compositions smooth out, the pieces begin to fit together (albeit with a few spots where the listener has to smash the pieces to make it fit). The big picture begins to form.
The image is not as straightforward and blatantly beautiful as Illinois. Whereas Illinois might be a Van Gogh or a Monet—constructed with sweeping brushstrokes and obviously gratifying, The Age of Adz is more of a Picasso—rough and convoluted yet beautiful nonetheless. It is tough to say if this beauty matches that of Illinois (admittedly a ridiculously high bar to reach), but there is a definite dark magnetism present. While not quite infectious, the album never fails to remain enrapturing, even during the interminable closer, “Impossible Soul.”
The Age of Adz is clearly an acquired taste, but Stevens’s past efforts give him the undeniable right to demand the audience’s repeated and dedicated attention. If they can grant him that much, an intricate, immersive listen will be their reward.