“Something not only genuinely remarkable but genuinely enjoyable” 4/5 The Guardian ‘Album of the Week’
“Yet again this prodigal genius manages to confound expectations, confirming his place as modern music’s most protean artist” 4/5 The Independent ‘Album of the Week’
“A record that combines the lushness of his best work with the boldness of electronica’s avant adventurers… The Age of Adz is quite enormous. And just as beautiful.” Word
“Exhilirating… who knew the apocalypse could be so beautiful?” NME
“This man can do no wrong” Independent On Sunday
“4/5” Q Magazine
“The most interesting musician in America right now” Sunday Times
“Stevens’ heartfelt lyricism and stunning pop orchestration both shine bright” 4/5 Daily Telegraph
“4/5” The Sun
“4/5” Time Out
“One of the loveliest things he has done” 4/5 Evening Standard
“Entrancing melodies” 5/5 Financial Times
Sufjan Stevens’ album The Age of Adz was well worth the wait, receiving universal critical acclaim and the level of salivation was borne out by reaching Number 7 in the US Billboard charts and the Top 30 in the UK the week of its release. The single ‘Too Much’ was A-listed on 6 Music as well as regular plays on Radio 1 from the likes of Zane Lowe and Rob Da Bank.
Fresh from springing the ‘All Delighted People’ EP on the world last week, and having sold over 12000 of said EP in its first weekend, Asthmatic Kitty unveils another major surprise in The Age of Adz (pronounced odds) – Sufjan Stevens’ first full-length collection of original songs since 2005’s civic pop opus Illinois. Take a moment to set aside all preconceptions, as this is Sufjan as we’ve never heard him before.
This new album is notable, and unusual, for its preoccupation with Sufjan himself. There are few narrative conceits or character sketches; there are no historical panoramas, no civic gestures, no literary manoeuvres, no expository illustrations drenched in cultural theory, no scene setting, conflict resolution or denouement.
The themes developed here are personal and primal: love, sex, death, disease, anxiety and suicide make appearances in a tapestry of electronic pop songs that convey a sense of urgency and immediacy as never before seen in this songwriter. The idea of unmitigated love runs deepest, often with shameless candour. Whether singing about old age, illness, or the Apocalypse, Sufjan can’t help but render everything through the lens of love and affection, the desire for contact, closeness, and connection.
The cosmic themes are only more augmented by the obvious sonic shift on this album to an electronic palette. Acoustic guitars and banjos have been replaced by drum machines and analogue synthesizers. Loops, samples and digital effects gurgle and hum underneath every verse, chorus and bridge. For those familiar with Sufjan’s earlier work, specifically the 2003 electronic album Enjoy Your Rabbit, this foray into the digital pop world shouldn’t be so startling.
Indeed, The Age of Adz is heavily arranged with brass, strings, woodwinds and a lush choir of backing voices, like the soundtrack to the most astonishing cosmic musical ever created. The live elements create vivacious juxtapositions against the montage of synthesized sounds, evoking their own kind of literal “sonic theory”— that is, the conflict and resolution between Real and Unreal, or Ordinary vs. Extraordinary.
These themes are best illustrated in the album’s namesake. The Age of Adz refers to the Apocalyptic art of Royal Robertson (1930 –1997), a black, Louisiana-based sign-maker (and self-proclaimed prophet) who suffered from schizophrenia, and whose work depicts the artist’s vivid dreams and visions of space aliens, futuristic automobiles, eccentric monsters and signs of the Last Judgment, all cloaked in a confusing psychobabble of biblical prophecy, numerology, Nordic mythology and comic book jargon. Portions of the album use Robertson’s work as a springboard into a cosmic consciousness in which basic instincts are transposed on a tableau of extraordinary scenes of divine wrath, environmental catastrophe and personal loss. A selection of Robertson’s work adds extraordinary colour to the album art as well.
But Robertson was also a man of mundane circumstances – his primary media were poster board, magic marker, and glitter. Living alone in a trailer in near poverty, even his most fantastical work contains heart-wrenching references to hunger, fatigue, anxiety, food stamps, loneliness and the desire for intimacy, scripted with unabashedly affectionate grievances.
In both his approach to releasing ‘All Delighted People’ and The Age of Adz and the work itself, Sufjan Stevens has redrawn the maps, burnt the rulebook and leapfrogged into the future.