Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz: Thoughts on Life, Love and the Apocalypse
There are not many subjects Sufjan Stevens hasn’t written about. From faith and love to zombies and the windy city, Stevens has made a career of his whispering vocals singing enormous things. Stevens’ 2005 album Illinois brought him to the attention of many—hipsters and homeschoolers alike—eventually leading to Illinois being named Paste magazine’s No. 1 Album of the Decade, and fans, including myself, couldn’t wait for his next release. Five years later, amongst his multiple releases of outtakes albums or side projects and even a five-disc Christmas collection, Stevens has produced a new full length album: Age of Adz.
At first listen Age of Adz is quite a piece to take in. With screeching guitars, trumpets, space-age lyrics, and hints at the apocalypse, Stevens once again displays his heart and ideas to listeners, and it’s overwhelming and personal. Yet there is a sense that amongst the noise and blasts, Stevens is in control of it all and wants to share some message.
This album has a different sound than any of his previous work. Trading the banjo for heavy beats and adding synthesizers and even auto-tune, it’s almost as if Kanye West and MIA had a smidgen of influence in the production. Still, Sufjan eases his devoted fans into the change of sound with his first song “Futile Devices”, a simple love song with Stevens’ classic, melodious sound and lyrics such as “It’s been a long long time since I memorized your face…” However, the second track “Too Much,” thrusts you immediately into Sufjans’ head space and the album gets progressively crazier with a choir in the background and the sounds of rockets taking off. There is so much going on, it takes a few listens before you’re really able to take in the lyrics or notice each intricate detail of what you’re hearing.
A little background information: Age of Adz is inspired by the art of Royal Roberston, a schizophrenic who separated himself from his wife and eleven children and claimed to be a prophet of the apocalypse, which led him to paint according to what he had seen in visions—robots, angels, and the end of all time. He was a mess, yet Sufjan Stevens found his work remarkable, and it explains the crazy world the listener enters into in Adz.
Although this album finds Stevens dealing with struggles of desire and death with lyrics like “Girl, I want nothing less than pleasure,” from the ending track “Impossible Soul” or “I should not be so lost/but I’ve got nothing left to love” from “I Walked,” he expresses hope, and is able to control all the cacophony. Stevens is a Christian and has devoted songs and entire albums to Biblical imagery and stories of working out his salvation, yet he has never shied from honesty about the human struggle towards obedience. Stevens is gifted with intimacy in all of his songs, messy or mellow, and the listener can cry and laugh with him. Age of Adz is Stevens at his finest. He understands the process of living as a Christian as he continues to tell himself in the midst of the CD— “do yourself a favor and get real/Get right with the Lord!”