Sufjan Stevens has released his latest epic album, The Age of Adz (amazon) (itunes), into the world and it has been met with generally favorable although somewhat mixed reviews. What many negative reviews seem to be forgetting is that it has been a full five years since we’ve heard any new music from Sufjan. Quite simply this is not the same man who gave us Illinois and Michigan. This is a new variation on the old beast.
The best way I can describe the new album is to think of it as your 10 or 20 year high school reunion. It is instantly recognizable and familiar, but there are moments, places, phrases, etc., that are completely unexpected. As you listen through the entire album (which you can do for free here) it is inescapably a sprawling Sufjan soundscape. But this is Sufjan equipped with a copious amount of electronic noisemakers and enough fame and fortune to indulge in a 25 minute multi-act track that ends the album. This is Sufjan outside of the confines of writing idiosyncratic historical and biographical songs about state history. Essentially this is Sufjan doing whatever he wants to do, and succeeding unabashedly.
Futile Devices is the opening track on the new album and it sounds like it could have been lifted straight from the Sufjan archives. I Want To Be Well, my personal favorite on the album, still contains a lot of the signature Sufjan flourishes (a slow building song, repeated choral effects, intricately layered musical composition, flutes, and a glorious crescendo; the final two minutes of the song are divine), but also showcases how he’s matured and pushed himself. Sufjan has brought with him all of the wonderful qualities apparent on Illinois, Michigan, and the Christmas albums and he’s continued to evolve as a musician and modern day composer. It might not look or sound exactly how you remembered Sufjan, but it’s still Sufjan nonetheless.