posted 2011-10-05 13:45:59

'The Age of Adz,' Sufjan Stevens [The Album That Changed My Life]

Photo by Alden Burke
Photo by Alden Burke
The Age of Adz and Its Epic Propensity

Alden Burke

Contributing Writer

Only two months prior to its release date, Sufjan Stevens announced his first song-based album since 2005 would be released on October 12. I was ecstatic.

Prior to the Age of Adz, Stevens had released fifteen studio albums. His eclectic sense of style is present throughout his entire discography; Stevens has created instrumental albums, Christmas albums, folk-inspired albums, and albums dedicated to entire states. His vast collection of music often leaves listeners guessing as to what he might put out next, but nothing could have prepared us for the masterpiece that is The Age of Adz.

The first time I listened to the highly anticipated album, I sat down in my room, put headphones on, and listened straight through. After hearing the opening track, Futile Devices, the light guitar and piano left me thinking that the album would be reminiscent of a classic Sufjan Stevens album. But as I listened, it became clear that this was different: banjos would be replaced with electro-infused beats, horns, heavy bass, and even auto-tuning.

This album portrays Stevens as a composer. The Age of Adz is an intricate opus that left me speechless. The album has a grandiose quality about it; it’s spectacular, but not overwhelming. There is something scientific to the way the songs present themselves- eleven perfect compositions filled with life and madness.

Stevens had drawn inspiration for his own madness from Louisiana artist and self-proclaimed prophet Royal Robertson. Stevens uses Robertson’s art as not only the album-cover, but in the liner notes, and as projections in his Age of Adz tour. Robertson’s work is graphic, eccentric and often times dark, which aren’t words generally used to describe the musical endeavors of Sufjan Stevens, but the new perspective from the Brooklyn-dwelling musician was refreshing.

Now, almost a year after its release, I have listened to this album more than any other album that I own. The complexity of each song allows me to discover the album as something new every time I play it through. This holds especially true for the last song, a twenty-five minute, five-part epic, entitled “Impossible Soul.” The song has a quality to it that I have never once run into before- Sufjan Stevens has created more life, energy and emotion in this one song than some artists create in entire careers.

This album, if not good enough on its own, is even more fantastic when performed live. This past August I saw Sufjan Stevens play at the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn. It was the last show of the tour, culminating in a phenomenal and star-studded performance. Playing almost all of the tracks off of Age of Adz, Stevens not only put on a concert, but also put on a performance. The stage was packed with an assortment of instruments, multiple drum kits, dancers, neon lit costumes, and even a laser show. Stevens stood in the center of the stage and was surrounded by his fellow musicians and a large screen that flashed images of Royal Robertson paintings, the devil, Stevens’ dancing and fantastical images of outer space.

Stevens ended the show with Impossible Soul, and the performance left me feeling renewed. With giant balloons, lights, and rain, the final song left the crowd in awe; we sang, we cried, and we danced as one being. We were alive.

But here’s the thing about music: in a larger sense, nothing is definable; there is no greatest band, no perfect album, nothing. Where these things do exist, though, is on a personal level, and that’s where it counts. It counts because when The Age of Adz comes on, nothing else matters. For me, the album has a power that is unexplainable to anyone who doesn’t understand the beauty in all eccentric twists and turns. When I listen to this album, I feel. Whether it is anger, sadness, excitement, nostalgia, or pure bliss, when The Age of Adz comes on, I feel it all. To find that quality is rare, but I find it every time I hear it. It’s like Sufjan Stevens might as well be sitting by my side telling me, "Welcome home. How is it out there? Looks pretty bad. Anyway, I'm glad your back,” and I am ok.