Listening to the new Sufjan Stevens album is like eating Marmite in Space

Cathal Brennan employs elaborate metaphors in order to review the latest by Sufjan

In his latest effort, The Age of Adz, Stevens strives to combine his trademark elegiac orchestral pop

© Denny Renshaw

with layered electronica, much in the same vein as The Flaming Lips. Synths crackle and pop over the duration of the album, with mixed results. One of the characteristics that has defined Stevens’ music is that it is impeccably textured; his use of classical composition, underpinned by an innate pop sensibility, has resulted in a number of widescreen-pop classics (listen to ‘Illnois’, his breakthrough album). However, his efforts to experiment and expand his sound into the region of electronic music sometimes fall short on his most recent collection; the combustible electronic squelches of ‘Too Much’ are just that, and while the Radiohead-style warbling on ‘Now That I’m Older’ aims for majestic, it borders on being annoying instead. The syncopated drums and canonic chorus of ‘I Want to be Well’ does better, only to be let down by a strangely emo vocal by Stevens, along with a cringeworthy use of the word, ‘fuck’ (note to Stevens: cursing does not a rockstar make), making it sound like a poor man’s ‘2 + 2 = 5’ by Radiohead.

It is on songs such as ‘Vesuvius’ and ‘Get Real Get Right’ that Stevens delivers – when he focuses on simple melodies and makes proper use of his talent for choral and instrumental composition, he’s in top form; the scattershot snare drum crescendo of the latter is arresting, while the former’s repeated mantra and simplicity is immediately catchy. ‘I Walked’ is sheer celestial pop, and the opening of the title track is like what Wagner would have composed if he was a time travelling killer robot, Terminator-style. The problem with much of the album is that it is over-produced, and pushes too far into territory that Stevens is in inexperienced in. The electronic influence in this album is utilised in an attempt to add layers to the texture in a typically Sufjan Stevens way, yet it instead serves to distract from the melodies (‘Bad Communication’). ‘The Age of Adz’ lends itself to repeat listens, but ultimately lets itself down due to bad production and Stevens’ overreaching ambition.

Tunes to Download: ‘Vesuvius’, ‘Get Real Get Right’, ‘Futile Devices’.

Originally appeared in the November 2010 edition of Motley

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