We're not in Chicago anymore...
Sufjan Stevens' new album, The Age of Adz sure is a big one. Electronics, synthesizers, brass, strings, drum machines, autotune, choirs, vocoders... Sufjan is not fucking around (oh, profanity is included as well!). Don't go into this expecting Illinois 2, but don't go into this expecting Enjoy Your Rabbit 2 either.
This release takes the composition and musical exploration of All Delighted People, and adds in both new and old elements. The second track, Too Much, starts out with an abrasive electronic intro, then goes into a pop-song heavy on the synths and drum machines. Layers and layers of drum machines. But then the strings show up, and later the guitars. This album really shows Sufjan's talent at composition; many of the songs change direction midway, but never do so in a way that feels forced. The last track, Impossible Soul is twenty-five minutes long. That's a new record for Sufjan, even including his soundtrack work on The BQE. And the chanting, autotune'ing, and pop this song brings are unprecedented in Sufjan's career.
But this album is not without flaws; that vacuous and artificial delay present on The Owl And The Tanager shows up in at least two of these tracks, and while it certainly fits in better here, I can't help but wish that he chose a more naturally colored delay. Other things from All Delighted People EP show up here as well; his vocal style (contrasted with his older works), those neat little vibrating string swells.
This probably isn't the best album Sufjan has ever released, but it's not one that will be remembered as a failed attempt. There are solid hooks, solid compositions, and solid musicianship on this album. The Age of Adz is a good one.