By Patrick Foster
This album isn't about an American state, but it is about the state of an American. That citizen being one Sufjan Stevens, who, after a nearly five-year layoff since his last major work, springs back into view with a complex, overworked (which is saying something) and intense collection of recordings. It's a shape-shifting, potentially divisive album that throbs with electronics and swims with countless melodic ideas. It's hard to know whether to reject or embrace "The Age of Adz" (say "odds"), but it's certain there is precious little like it.
The album is informed by the spirit of outsider artist Royal Robertson, who poured out his demons, dreams, fear and desire via felt-tip markers. Stevens uses more complex materials, but the psychic content is the same. Death, human disconnectedness, anxiety, illness and love - real top 40 stuff - are the main topics here and they are massaged into the aural lobes in a dizzying variety of approaches. Laments ("Now That I'm Older"), squirty electronica ("Too Much") and pseudo-hymns ("All for Myself") mix with what sounds like Van Dyke Parks mashed up with Flying Lotus ("Age of Adz").
The album's foundation, however, is "Impossible Soul," the 25-minute closing track, which in itself contains more ideas than Train has had in its entire career. The song essentially touches on all the aforementioned styles, goes through an Auto-Tune interlude (about the 10:45 mark) and finally arrives where Sufjan began: a delicate pairing of guitar and voice. It drops the curtain on the "Age of Adz" as Stevens's (first?) transitional work; one that shows that even during an existential crisis, his rare talent should be treasured.
Recommended tracks: "Futile Devices," "Too Much," "Age of Adz"