The Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)
After aborting the “50 States project” (which proved to be too ambitious even for the prolific Sufjan Stevens) after only two States – Michigan and Illinois – Sufjan gave us a third record of outtakes from the latter, and then began down a bizarrely amazing path of musical self discovery. First there was the box set of (42) Christmas songs. Then there was the classical, orchestrated piece dedicated to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in New York City. He recently, and suddenly, gave us the genre-bending record that’s way too long to really be called an EP, but way too interesting and beautiful to be ignored, All Delighted People EP. And now, the much anticipated, and surely-to-be-overly-debated full-length LP, The Age of Adz .
One glance at the album cover should be your first clue into the insane musical journey you are about to embark on. Insane being a carefully selected word here. The album artwork and title The Age of Adz (pronounced “odds”) are inspired by the works of paranoid schizophrenic American artist Royal Robertson. Selected pieces of his artwork in the CD packaging depict god-like warriors, mermaid-slash-snake ladies, lizards, UFOs and more that look like they were drawn and colored by a confused, desperate young boy who was either too smart for his own good, or misunderstood, or both.
The same could be said for what Sufjan Stevens conjures up in this collection of sad, desperate and disparate songs. Both beautiful and challenging. Dense and, at times, overwhelming. It’s an intense record sonically and contextually. It’s a record that can sound like someone trying to break free from something – “Now that I’m older, So be it so of love” (“Now that I’m older“) – or desperately clinging to something he probably shouldn’t - “There’s too much riding on this…There’s too much, too much, too much love.” (“Too Much”).
Sonically it can sound confusing at first, almost as Sufjan is simply fooling around with Garage Band and new electronic sequencer he just picked up. But keep listening and it will sound anything like an accident. And amidst the chaotic instrumentation there are some really beautiful songs on this record. “Too much” and “I Walked” may well be counted amongst Sufjan’s finest. While “The Age of Adz” is one of the more challenging, but if you wait for it, equally as rewarding. “Vesuvius” sounds like a modern mashup between “John Wayne Gacy Jr” and “Chicago.” And of course, the epic 25+ minute opus “Impossible Soul” could warrant an entire review on its own. It’s a long, complicated end to the long wait for a complicated record that is The Age of Adz.