Frenetic waves of cascading glitch electronics abruptly end as soon as they seem to start. Swirling psychedelic soundscapes envelope the listener with warmth and somewhere, just outside of the mix, one can hear the familiar comfort and vulnerability of every Sufjan Stevens’ song of the past decade.
This is it, this is “The Age Of Adz,” Sufjan Stevens’s most adventurous and self-aware album to date, and in many ways, perhaps his best yet. Void of any pretension that was present in previous grandiose concepts, “The Age of Adz” not only establishes itself as an original work within a career full of traditional concepts, but also serves as the next evolutionary step of Americana.
Perhaps most alarming to “The Age Of Adz” is how comfortable and logical it sounds. Despite the exchange of lush orchestral arrangements for drum machines and Casio keyboards, the album never sounds as though Stevens is experimenting on a whim; every song on the album is treated with such an attention to detail that it is no wonder it has been five years since Stevens has released any new material. Every note played, every vocal inflection present, is so precisely placed that it is difficult to not utter the words “musical genius.”
The eight-minute career medley “Age Of Adz” weaves so seamlessly between every stylistic venture that it recalls the “teenage symphony to god” crafted by the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson over 40 years ago. Even the 25 minute plus album closer “Impossible Soul” is so varied, that even after the various tempo changes and genre transitions, the listener feels an absolute sense of satisfaction in completing the song without a single lapse of engagement.
And that is ultimately “The Age of Adz” most endearing feature; despite the abandonment of the orchestral arrangements that established Sufjan Stevens years ago, the music is no less emotionally evocative or confident in its new electronic soundscapes.