Saturday, 9 October 2010

Review: The Age of Adz

I'm more than a week into this now, enjoying at work, rest and play. Great on the stereo or whilst driving, but mostly this is a brilliant headphone album. My eardrums are loving this like a great massage. It might even cure my tinnitus, at the very least I'll certainly forget about it for 75 minutes running time.

It's easy to think of this as Sufjan's pop album, but it's more than that. This time it's personal and current (no songs about the Columbia Fair or his stepmother). Nearly every song in the first person addressing his current state of mind in ways that many of us can relate to. He even namechecks himself in one song. One of the most deliberate of artists, I can detect a narrative arc to the song order. I'm so looking forward to sitting down with the lyric sheet.

Futile Devices is a trademark short acoustic number that Sufjan does so well. Pity the unwary listener who doesn't realise the electric mayhem that awaits. It's a good opener but it ain't no Concerning the UFO (a track that still mesmerises five years later.)

I'm not sure that Too Much is the best introduction to this electro-classical pop album. The leading melodic motif is a little banal and I feel the tune outstays itself at six minutes plus. Never mind, it's all glory from here.

The Age of Adz is a stunning and sophisticated track, rightfully taking its place as the title track. The portentious triplet of tuba-style notes giving the song a booming gravitas onto which the random army of synthesized noises are unleashed, and just beneath it all is a plucked guitar that gradually emerges. The moment at 6:20 which the choir chimes in is as good as any orchestral climax. And the words in context are quite moving...
And when I die, when I die
I'll rot
But when I live, when I live
I'll give it all I've got

I Walked is a lovely pop song, which succeeds where Too Much fails. Who knows, this could even be a pop radio hit.

Now That I'm Older stands apart with its swirling array of treated voices backed by little more that some tickling keyboards. This song is so mature it should carry a "not for teenagers" warning. The background voices remind me a lot of Kate and Anna McGarrigle's angelic tones. It feels like one of those Sufjan slow burners that gradually become a fan favourite.

Get Real Get Right is a great pop tune with a scintillating background of Sufjan's trademark fluttering woodwinds and emphasising female choir. It works in the same way as I Walked, which similarly hits the five minute mark.

Bad Communication is more of a declamatory interlude. For me the least convincing track here.

Vesuvius feels like a welcome breather being lighter on the electronic. It's a very Sufjan song... in many respects, he even namechecks himself. I love the flutes/recorders/panpipes at the end, which makes me nostalgic for his first album, A Sun Came. Classic Sufjan. If you like how Sufjan makes you feel, this is your track. And if you love this, you should check out A Sun Came.

All For Myself's time signature seems to be derived from a 33rpm record stuck in a groove, perhaps while going backwards. In old language it would be regarded as a typical Sufjan off-kilter ballad.

I've worn out my fingertips on the desk trying get the time signatures for I Want To Be Well, this fascinating uptempo song is firstly in 7/8, briefly flirting with 4/4 in the transition then settling into a raucous 5/4 for one of the album's most notable sections, which includes the repeated declaration that "I'm not fucking around"> His voice, and the treatment thereof, is fantastic. There's a real edge to it. Six minutes of top notch Sufjan.

Which leaves us with the 25 minutes of Impossible Soul. Having experienced the 17 minute jam of Djorariah just a few weeks before, I bet I wasn't the only one expecting a similar long jam with an even longer repeat and fade out. But Sufjan confounds again! It's easier to think of this as a five song suite:
Part one is a very strong mid-paced melody, incredibly well arranged with keyboard, frantic snare-drums, chorus, and a signature Sufjan guitar solo...
part two, "don't be destracted" interrupts, led by a female voice which gives way to a multitude of horns, sounding something like the Blood Sweat and Tears of old. After 10 minutes we're into...
part three "Stupid Man", the notorious Autotune section. I like the music, a dreamlike tape loop, but I guess I'm one of many that is conditioned against Autotune, so it's hard, but really it's well done I guess and pretty brief, and soon transitions into...
part four "We Can Do Much More Together", a cheesy cheerleader chant. I could really see the media picking up on this, TV sports highlight packages and the like. Lyrically this track feels like a breath of fresh air as if Sufjan has finally managed to cast aside his various neuroses and insecurities. It winds down with a beautiful usage of electronic noises as it runs through some key changes, until...
part five "I Never Meant To Cause You Pain", an acoustic segment that perfectly mirrors the opener, Futile Devices, some 70 minutes earlier.

What a journey!

No comments: