In many ways, it’s as if everything was planned for this kind of moment. For so many years people flocked the web and internet with supposed official news that Sufjan Stevens was never to make music anymore. He merely contributed stunning work for The National and for the Dark Was the Night compilation, while making time to write a documentary and still, working on various other projects. Suddenly, it’s 2010 and five years after Illinois, Stevens returns with something completely contradictory of a ‘new state album’ with The Age of Adz: a transfixing, breathtaking and downright spectacular testament to Stevens’ colossal skill and talent. Taking everything we knew about him and creatively twisting a few methods (the folk is still here: it’s just a lot more introspective and personal; the embracing orchestrations are still here too: they’re just more blasting than before) into new behemoths of magic is what he’s opted for and really, how could anyone ask for more?
When you transition from the “glorious, victorious” vibes of “Djohariah” and into the opening strings of “Futile Devices,” everything falls right into place. The shivering voices and the flickering guitar that leads right into another hovering guitar line is a brilliant sequence – intentional or not. But what’s immediately noticeable is yet again, how strongly visceral Stevens’ voice sounds in 2010. So much of what the All Delighted People EP expressed was wrapped up in its surprisingly lush layers and though The Age of Adz showcases an out of this world new dimension to Stevens’ music, it’s his singular voice that lends to some of the album’s finest moments. Besides the aforementioned, there’s the robotic drive of “Too Much” with Stevens’ jittery cadence and immediately afterward, the sprawling range of dynamics on “Age of Adz.” The latter is an entirely diverse set of music on its own, that it truly delegates its own feature.
There’s instinctive attention in Stevens’ Radiohead-like guitar and piano melody that leads perfectly into one of the album’s mightiest moments: the “I’m not fucking around I’m not, I’m not, I’m not fucking around” on “I Want to Be Well.” It’s the death of an older sound, of an older time and one that we probably won’t see from Stevens ever again. Realizing, “And I forgive you, even as you choke me that way,” Stevens blows any kind of doubt out of the water with a smooth ability at being able to always tug on your emotions.
And the words – even with how comprehensive as they were before – have never seemed to matter more than they do now. “Now That I’m Older” is basically a direct narrative that is simply about Stevens and no one else. Though the album’s title is a reference to artist Royal Robertson, the storytelling and lyrics in the music are the words of a reflective and maturing human being. It’s almost certainly the most genuine way of presenting it, too, when he sings, “Somewhere I lost whatever else I had…I wasn’t over you;” it’s more an admittance of fault than nothing else. But it’s those kinds of daunting moments that make everything on The Age of Adz that much more personable and relatable than ever. “Vesuvius” seems to be the channeling of an anger storm that Stevens’ wishes would never appear. None of this even mentions the gorgeous music – which is entirely erroneous – but in all regards, as amazing as the words are, they don’t clear up until a handful of good listens in because of how awing the music really is.
“All for Myself” would have to be one of the album’s most ambitious songs but that’s entirely questionable once you’ve digested the entire 25 minutes that “Impossible Soul” lends itself in. The latter has everything from autotune, to a sing-a-long chanting, thrilling chorus, to well, 15 or so other minutes of spellbinding music. And the former, shines as one of the three songs under the 3-minute mark on The Age of Adz. The synths mask the drums before everything, including horns and bells, ring in the singing of “I want it all, I want it all for myself.” It could be about anything really but mostly, it’s a selfishly hungry Stevens and one that is truly capable of anything at this point. After all those years that people remarked and possibly, tried to shut him out, Stevens has returned with what just might be the best music he has ever crafted. This is a sharp contrast from what he sounded like five years ago, numbers aside now; it couldn’t have come at a better time.