The album will be available on double vinyl from the 9th November
This is Sufjan Stevens' first full-length collection of original songs since 2005's civic pop opus 'Illinois'. Take a moment to set aside all preconceptions, as this is Sufjan as we've never heard him before.
This new album is notable, and unusual, for its preoccupation with Sufjan himself. There are few narrative conceits or character sketches; there are no historical panoramas, no civic gestures, no literary manoeuvres, no expository illustrations drenched in cultural theory, no scene setting, conflict resolution or denouement.
The themes developed here are personal and primal: love, sex, death, disease, illness, anxiety and suicide make appearances in a tapestry of electronic pop songs that convey a sense of urgency and immediacy as never before seen in this songwriter. The idea of unmitigated love runs deepest, often with shameless candour. Whether singing about old age, illness, or the Apocalypse, Sufjan can't help but render everything through the lens of love and affection, the desire for contact, closeness, and connection.
The cosmic themes are only more augmented by the obvious sonic shift on this album to an electronic palette. Acoustic guitars and banjos have been replaced by drum machines and analogue synthesizers. Loops, samples and digital effects gurgle and hum underneath every verse, chorus and bridge. For those familiar with Sufjan's earlier work, specifically the 2003 electronic album 'Enjoy Your Rabbit', this foray into the digital pop world shouldn't be so startling.
Indeed, 'The Age Of Adz' is heavily arranged with brass, strings, woodwinds and a lush choir of backing voices, like the soundtrack to the most astonishing cosmic musical ever created.
The live elements create vivacious juxtapositions against the montage of synthesized sounds, evoking their own kind of literal "sonic theory"- that is, the conflict and resolution between Real and Unreal, or Ordinary vs. Extraordinary.
These themes are best illustrated in the album's namesake. 'The Age Of Adz' refers to the Apocalyptic art of Royal Robertson (1930 -1997), a black, Louisiana-based sign-maker (and self-proclaimed prophet) who suffered from schizophrenia, and whose work depicts the artist's vivid dreams and visions of space aliens, futuristic automobiles, eccentric monsters and signs of the Last Judgment, all cloaked in a confusing psychobabble of biblical prophecy, numerology, Nordic mythology and comic book jargon. Portions of the album use Robertson's work as a springboard into a cosmic consciousness in which basic instincts are transposed on a tableau of extraordinary scenes of divine wrath, environmental catastrophe and personal loss. A selection of Robertson's work adds extraordinary colour to the album art as well.
But Robertson was also a man of mundane circumstances - his primary media were poster board, magic marker, and glitter. Living alone in a trailer in near poverty, even his most fantastical work contains heart-wrenching references to hunger, fatigue, anxiety, food stamps, loneliness and the desire for intimacy, scripted with unabashedly affectionate grievances.
In both his approach to releasing recent EP 'All Delighted People' and 'The Age Of Adz' and the work itself, Sufjan Stevens has redrawn the maps, burnt the rulebook and leapfrogged into the future.