Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
Sufjan Stevens is that wonder of our age, the sound of standard-issue idiosyncrasy. Indie rock today has distilled the essence of genuine left-field weirdos like Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson into an all-purpose formula for success — twee harmonies, whimsically fractured songwriting, interpolations of radically different genres (folk! electronica!) all mixed together with childish naivete and the occasional bit of calculated profanity. Add it all up and you’ve got a unique individual who sounds just as indivisibly individual as all the other kids on Pitchfork.
Indeed, Stevens has always been distinguished from his indie-folk peers by his lack of distinction. The Age of Adz takes that Brand X quality to its logical conclusion. You can almost see the fevered man-boy sitting down at his computer and exclaiming, “Gee whiz! Today I’m going to be sprawling and ambitious!” The song “Age of Adz” has orchestrated bits, electronic thumping, and a catchy chorus spread out over eight minutes of ingratiating excess. “Bad Communication” is the downer, fractured, I-have-suffered-and-employ-medication flip side, with the distorted vocals and the haunting honking bleeps and sound effects. “Impossible Soul” is the magnum opus; twenty-five minutes of winsomely erratic songwriting dedicated to winking at disco till your eye fuses shut and/or someone steps off the dance floor to punch you in the face.
The dilemma here is understandable. Unlike, say, his sometime collaborator Daniel Smith of the Daniellson Famile, Stevens doesn’t actually have a ton of original ideas, or an unusual sensibility. Instead, he’s a decent technician with a good sense of melody and musicianship. If he were a blues performer, that’d be fine — he’d be keeping it real on solid album after solid album without the need to pretend he had anything earthshaking to say. As an indie rocker, though, he’s got to be a genius. And so you have this — a big, polished, delivery system which desperately wants you to think it’s an uncategorizable mess. It’s like watching the Bangles trying to make Smile. Or it would be if Stevens were as talented as the Bangles. Which he is not.
Recommended Tracks: “Age of Adz”, “Bad Communication,” “I Walked”