The Age of Adz

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The Age of Adz
A painting of a samurai warrior in black, red, and white with the name of the album and artist written around it.
Studio album by Sufjan Stevens
Released October 12, 2010 (2010-10-12)
Recorded 2009–2010
Genre Baroque Pop, Folktronica, Art Rock[1]
Length 74:49
Label Asthmatic Kitty
Producer Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens chronology
All Delighted People
(2010)
The Age of Adz
(2010)
Silver & Gold
(2012)

The Age of Adz (pronounced /ɒdz/)[2] is a 2010 album by American singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens, released on October 12, 2010 by Asthmatic Kitty. It is Stevens' sixth studio album and his first song-based full length album in five years, since the release of Illinois in 2005.

The album features a heavy use of electronics augmented by orchestration, and takes inspiration from the apocalyptic artwork of schizophrenic artist Royal Robertson. Stevens' use of electronics marked a radical departure from much of his previous work—most notably from Seven Swans and Michigan. Unlike Illinois, the lyrics do not explore events, characters or setting, but deal instead with themes and emotions on a personal level.

Critics praised the intimacy of the album, but many were divided over the change in style that Stevens had taken. Nonetheless, it appeared on several "best of 2010" lists—including those of Paste, The New York Times and MTV. Commercially, the album gave Stevens his career's best first week sales to date and was his highest charting album to date, peaking in the top ten on the Billboard 200.

Background and recording[edit]

Stevens on-stage wearing a colorful suit and a string of lights while playing guitar and singing into a microphone
Stevens' musical interests have shifted dramatically—he is seen here in 2011 wearing a colorful light-up outfit that fits the obscure electronic themes of The Age of Adz

Following his 2005 album Illinois, Stevens did not produce another song-based full length album for five years.[2] In 2006, he released an album of extra material left over from Illinois (originally conceived as a double album), titled The Avalanche,[3] as well as an album of Christmas music titled Songs for Christmas (produced in parts between 2001 and 2006).[4] Following the release of The Avalanche, Stevens expressed a dissatisfaction with his music, stating in an interview with Pitchfork Media in 2006: "I'm getting tired of my voice. I'm getting tired of...the banjo. I'm getting tired of...the trumpet".[5] In 2009 Stevens admitted that his Fifty States Project—an attempt to write an album for each of the 50 U.S. States—had been a "promotional gimmick" and not something that he had seriously intended to complete.[6] In the same year he released The BQE, an orchestral suite accompanying a home-made film dedicated to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.[7] In an interview with BeatRoute Magazine in 2010, Stevens stated "[The BQE] kinda sabotaged the mechanical way of approaching my music, which was basically narrative long-form. It really opened things up for me. It also confused things as well. I don’t think I ever really fully recovered from that process".[8] On August 20, 2010, without prior announcement, Stevens released the EP All Delighted People,[9] and less than one week later, announced The Age of Adz to be released on October 12.[10][11]

In interviews, Stevens stated that during 2009–2010 he suffered from a mysterious debilitating viral infection that affected his nervous system. He experienced chronic pain, and was forced to stop working on music for several months.[12] He said: "The Age of Adz, is, in some ways, a result of that process of working through health issues and getting much more in touch with my physical self. That's why I think the record's really obsessed with sensation and has a hysterical melodrama to it."[13]

My Brightest Diamond frontwoman Shara Worden—who previously collaborated with Stevens as a backing vocalist on the albums The Avalanche and Illinois—has a solo performance on the track "Impossible Soul", and provides backing vocals throughout the album.[14][15]

Artwork[edit]

The artwork of Royal Robertson, a self-proclaimed prophet from Louisiana,[16] was used for the album's cover and interior.[2] Will Hermes of Rolling Stone said that Sufjan Stevens uses the artwork "as a springboard for music that evokes a visionary psyche."[17] Stevens became interested in the work of Robertson after recording music for a friend's documentary on the artist, and said that "[the more I studied him and his work], the more I felt a weird affinity to this guy and the story of his life."[18] He began to transcribe some of the text that appears in Robertson's artwork, and says this process stayed with him a "long time" and "that some of it started to come up in the lyrics, in the songs I was writing.[18]

Musical style and themes[edit]

Musical style[edit]

30 second sample from the song "Age of Adz", demonstrating the use of heavy electronic and orchestral sounds.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

The Age of Adz marked a radical departure in musical style from that of Stevens' previous album Illinois. Robin Hilton summarised the changes as Stevens "[replacing] delicately plucked banjo lines, wispy vocals and sentimental melodies with glitchy soundscapes, hip-hop [sic] beats and heavily filtered vocals."[19] Amongst his other work, the 2001 electronic album Enjoy Your Rabbit was regarded as being the most close in style to this album.[16] Nevertheless, critics highlighted the first track "Futile Devices" as being stylistically consistent with his earlier acoustic work.[20]

Sufjan Stevens himself has said that the album's tracks "are pop songs, but they’re based on sound experimentation and noise".[21] He contrasted the way in which the album was made for listeners who understood his interest in "electronic music and noise and in sound sculpting and minimalism", and with Illinois which he described as a "populist record".[21]

Themes[edit]

The Age of Adz departs from the geography-based concepts of Stevens' previous albums; until his announcement in 2009 that he had never seriously intended to complete the project, it had been expected that his next work might continue the Fifty States Project that he had begun with Michigan and continued with Illinois.[6] The album contains no "conceptual underpinnings",[16] instead focusing on themes that are personal and intimate to Stevens himself;[22] the label Asthmatic Kitty describes the themes as "personal and primal … love, sex, death, disease, illness, anxiety, and suicide".[16]

A recurrent focus of the album is love,[23] a theme that sometimes overlaps with spirituality as Stevens seems to address both a lover and a divine power.[24] Another important theme is that of mortality — the song "Now That I'm Older" has been noted as "repeatedly [acknowledging] mortality and the importance of making the most of life."[24] Acknowledging the interplay of these two themes, the album has been described as having songs "in which love and death reign darkly over an imaginative landscape peopled with apparitions, ghosts, orators and space travellers".[23]

Release and reception[edit]

The Age of Adz debuted at number seven on the Billboard 200, with 36,000 copies sold, giving Stevens his career's best first week sales to date. It was his highest charting album to date, peaking in the top ten on the Billboard 200.[12][25] It also placed number one on Billboard's "Rock Albums", "Independent Albums", "Alternative Albums" and "Folk Albums" lists, and placed number two on the "Digital Albums" and "Tastemaker Albums" lists.[25] The album also placed within the "Top 100 Albums" lists in several other countries.[26]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 80[27]
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[22]
BBC (mixed)[28]
Consequence of Sound 4/5 stars[29]
Entertainment.ie 4/5 stars[30]
Entertainment Weekly (A-)[31]
The Guardian 4/5 stars[32]
The Independent 4/5 stars[23]
One Thirty BPM (89%)[33]
NME 7/10 stars[34]
Pitchfork Media (8.4/10)[35]
Slant Magazine 4.5/5 stars[36]
Spin 7/10 stars[37]
Sputnikmusic 5/5 stars[38]

The Age of Adz received widespread critical acclaim upon its release. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 80, based on 33 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[27] Keith Meatto of the Frontier Psychiatrist described the album as "a musical masterpiece that blends analog and digital sounds as it reflects on love and loss, life and death, humanity and divinity."[24] Entertainment.ie's Jenny Mulligan described Stevens as "a strange one, that's for sure, but he may just be a genius"[30] Uncut commented that the album provides plenty of evidence to argue that he is either "one of the most important songwriters of his generation" or "just an infuriating, neurotic show-off".[39] Alexis Petridis of The Guardian said that although the album "goes a bit barmy and over-the-top." there are some "incredible tune[s]" that are "not only genuinely remarkable, but genuinely enjoyable".[32] Alex Denney of NME similarly commented that the album "conjures just enough moments of heart-stopping gorgeousness to foot the bill for its dizzying excesses".[34] Sam Lewis of the BBC remarked on the same point that the album is "suffused with individual moments of brilliance", but felt that overall it was "let down by its self-conscious incoherence."[28]

The most discussed track of the album among reviewers was "Impossible Soul", which at 25 minutes in length comprises a third of the overall album. Pitchfork's reviewer Ryan Dombal described the track as having "more engaging ideas than most artists could muster in a career",[35] although No Ripcord reviewer Alan Shulman criticized the middle sections as being an "epic train wreck", saying that the closing minutes come as "a breath of fresh air".[40] One Thirty BPM reviewer Rob Hakimian was mixed in his reception of the track, and commented that it would "make or break" the album for listeners, describing it as a successful "proclamation of love", but also "bloated" and "way over the top".[33]

Accolades[edit]

Many reviewing sites included The Age of Adz in their best of 2010 lists.

Best of the year (2010) lists
Publisher Accolade Rank
Time Top 10 Albums of 2010 #6[41]
Exclaim! Best Pop & Rock Album of 2010 #8[42]
Pitchfork 50 top albums of 2010 #25[43]
The New York Times Top Pop 2010 Anthems #5[44]
MTV 20 Best Albums Of 2010 #10[45]
Paste The 50 Best Albums of 2010 #9[46]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Sufjan Stevens. 

No. Title Length
1. "Futile Devices"   2:11
2. "Too Much"   6:44
3. "Age of Adz"   8:00
4. "I Walked"   5:01
5. "Now That I'm Older"   4:56
6. "Get Real Get Right"   5:10
7. "Bad Communication"   2:24
8. "Vesuvius"   5:26
9. "All for Myself"   2:55
10. "I Want to Be Well"   6:27
11. "Impossible Soul"   25:35
Total length:
74:49
  • Note: On the vinyl release of the album, the last movement (about three minutes) of "Impossible Soul" is moved to the end of side C, just after "I Want to be Well" for reasons of space and time restrictions.

Personnel[edit]

The album's liner notes provides limited information regarding the personnel. "Prophet Royal Robertson" is credited with all artwork except the pieces "Bar-Koom!", "Katora", and "Space Autos" by Scott Ogden.[47][48] Shara Worden performs a solo on "Impossible Soul", and provides backing vocals throughout.[14]

Chart positions[edit]

Region Sales charts (2010) Peak position
United States US Billboard 200 7[22]
Independent Albums 1[22]
United Kingdom UK Albums Chart 30[26]
Norway VG-lista 19[26]
Ireland Irish Albums Chart 23[26]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Billboard's Number One Albums of the Rock Era, Pt. 1 (1956–1995)". Rate Your Music. Retrieved 2011-02-20. 
  2. ^ a b c "The Age of Adz, a New Album from Sufjan Stevens". Asthmatic Kitty. August 26, 2010. Retrieved August 26, 2010. 
  3. ^ "The Avalanche". Asthmatic Kitty. Retrieved October 21, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Songs For Christmas". Asthmatic Kitty. Retrieved October 21, 2010. 
  5. ^ Crock, Jason (May 15, 2006). "Sufjan Stevens". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved June 2, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Purcell, Andrew (October 27, 2009). "Sufjan Stevens's symphony for New York". The Guardian (London). Retrieved October 28, 2009. 
  7. ^ "The BQE". Asthmatic Kitty. Retrieved October 21, 2010. 
  8. ^ Clinton Hallahan. "Sufjan Stevens". BeatRoute Magazine. Retrieved October 22, 2010. 
  9. ^ "A New EP from Sufjan Stevens". Asthmatic Kitty. August 20, 2010. Retrieved October 21, 2010. 
  10. ^ "The Age of Adz, a New Album from Sufjan Stevens". Asthmatic Kitty. August 26, 2010. Retrieved October 21, 2010. 
  11. ^ Hilton, Robin (September 26, 2010). "First Listen: Sufjan Stevens, 'The Age Of Adz'". National Public Radio. Retrieved September 27, 2010. 
  12. ^ a b Jessica Suarez (October 22, 2010). "Sufjan Reveals Health Issues, Has Career-Best Sales Week". Stereogum. Retrieved October 25, 2010. 
  13. ^ "Sufjan Stevens Discusses His "Mysterious and Debilitating" Health Issues". Exclaim.ca. October 22, 2010. Retrieved October 27, 2010. 
  14. ^ a b "Collaborations". My Brightest Diamond. Retrieved 21 January 2013. "Sufjan Stevens: Age of Adz background vocals throughout album & solo on “Impossible Soul”" 
  15. ^ Kushner, Daniel J. "Shara Worden: Conspiring in Song". NewMusicBox. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  16. ^ a b c d "Sufjan Stevens The Age of Adz". Asthmatic Kitty Records. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  17. ^ Hermes, Will. "The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 19, 2011. 
  18. ^ a b Skinner, James. ""I feel much more optimistic right now." DiS meets Sufjan Stevens". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved July 22, 2011. 
  19. ^ Hilton, Robin. "First Listen: Sufjan Stevens, 'The Age Of Adz'". NPR Music. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  20. ^ Taylor, John (October 2010). "Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz". Relevant Magazine. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  21. ^ a b Kushner, Daniel J. "Adz and Ends: An Interview with Sufjan Stevens (Part 2 of 3)". Post-Post-Rock. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  22. ^ a b c d James Christopher Monger (October 12, 2010). "The Age of Adz – Sufjan Stevens: Review". Allmusic. Retrieved November 6, 2010. 
  23. ^ a b c Andy Gill (October 8, 2010). "Album: Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)". The Independent (London). Retrieved October 8, 2010. 
  24. ^ a b c "The Church of Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz". Frontier Psychiatrist. December 20, 2010. Retrieved December 20, 2010. 
  25. ^ a b "The Age of Adz – Sufjan Stevens". Billboard. Retrieved October 25, 2010. 
  26. ^ a b c d "Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz". acharts.us. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  27. ^ a b "The Age of Adz". Metacritic. Retrieved October 19, 2010. 
  28. ^ a b Sam Lewis (October 8, 2010). "Review of Sufjan Stevens — The Age of Adz". BBC. Retrieved October 13, 2010. 
  29. ^ Ryan Burleson (September 29, 2010). "Album Review: Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved October 8, 2010. 
  30. ^ a b Mulligan, Jenny (October 13, 2010). "Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz". Entertainment.ie. Retrieved January 12, 2011. 
  31. ^ Simon Vozick-Levinson (October 6, 2010). "Music Review — The Age of Adz". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved October 12, 2010. 
  32. ^ a b Alexis Petridis (October 7, 2010). "Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz — review". The Guardian (London). Retrieved October 13, 2010. 
  33. ^ a b Hakimian, Rob (October 12, 2010). "Album Review: Sufjan Stevens — The Age of Adz". One Thirty BPM. Retrieved October 12, 2010. 
  34. ^ a b Denney, Alex. "Album Review: Sufjan Stevens – The Age Of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)". NME. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  35. ^ a b Ryan Dombal (October 12, 2010). "Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved January 12, 2014. 
  36. ^ Kevin Lidel (October 12, 2010). "Music Review: Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz". Slant Magazine. Retrieved November 7, 2010. 
  37. ^ Mikael Wood (October 2, 2010). "Sufjan Stevens, 'The Age of Adz' (Asthmatic Kitty)". Spin. Retrieved October 8, 2010. 
  38. ^ Adam Downer (October 3, 2010). "Sufjan Stevens — The Age of Adz (staff review)". Retrieved October 13, 2010. 
  39. ^ Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz. Uncut, November 2010
  40. ^ Alan Shulman (October 12, 2010). "The Age of Adz". No Ripcord. Retrieved October 22, 2010. 
  41. ^ "Sufjan Stevens, 'Age of Adz' – The Top 10 Everything of 2010". Time. December 9, 2010. Retrieved December 26, 2012. 
  42. ^ "Pop & Rock Year in Review". Exclaim!. 
  43. ^ "The Top 50 Albums of 2010". Pitchfork. December 16, 2010. Retrieved December 18, 2010. 
  44. ^ Pareles, Jon (December 16, 2010). "Top Pop 2010". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2011. 
  45. ^ Montgomery, James. "Kanye West, Robyn And More: 20 Best Albums Of 2010". MTV. Retrieved July 17, 2011. 
  46. ^ Jackson, Josh. "The 50 Best Albums of 2010". Paste. Retrieved July 17, 2011. 
  47. ^ The Age of Adz (CD liner notes). Sufjan Stevens. Asthmatic Kitty. 2010. AKR077.
  48. ^ "The Age of Adz - Credits". Allmusic. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 

External links[edit]