I've just put the finishing touches on listening to the full stream of Sufjan Steven's out-of-nowhere-non-USA-related-release The Age of Adz. And I have to tell you, I was fully prepared to put the kibosh on this one. I was pretty non-plussed by the "All Delighted People" EP and such a big fan of the States project that even though I knew he wasn't actually going to do it (50 states? Who is this guy? Elvin Bishop?) I was pretty sure I'd listen and love all of them. So you throw this mess of synths and rambling 25 min tracks with--what was that? Auto-tune?--without a state bird and that makes for one grimacing blogger.
Hold up. Where'd that grimace go?
Yeah. Totally. I've bought The Age of Adz hook, line, and sinker. No. I'm not being ironic. This album is really, really good. So, give a sec, hater, and I'll tell you why.
1. Sufjan reinvents his sound without losing it. What was genius about what was going on? The sheer effortlessness, the heart ache, that boy-with-a-baseball cap sentimentality. It's just happening with machines now. Which, in my book, is pretty unbelievable considering that, you know, machines can't bleed. But, it's not that much of a leap to jump from say "Holland" to moments in "Futile Devices."
2. This album isn't trying to be anything that it's not. Or, just cuz there are beats doesn't mean you should dance to it. The Talking Heads once wondered if factories were music to aliens. Now, I'm not suggesting that Sufjan is...ya know...but, I will totally give him credit for this. He is re-imagining what synths and drum machines can do. There's parts that are reminiscent of Beirut's work with synths on "Scenic World" or "Fountains and Tramways." The usage is almost as orchestral as the orchestra in the BQE, only this time the structure's different and the orchestral has a robotic sounding counterpart which makes the orchestra sound better.
3. When was the last time you sprawled out and let an album just take you some place? Odds are it was probably Illinoise or Michigan. Hey look! Same guy! Yeah, and, just because it sounds different doesn't mean it isn't as lovable. It just means its different, ok? The free association of lyrics and sound are unlike anything else you're going to hear this year. Stevens has managed to be utterly surprising and, frankly, it shouldn't be. I mean, the man does what he wants. And there should be more people who are willing to take that risk and in this case, reap the reward.