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With his sixth proper album, Sufjan Stevens does battle with what we’ve come to expect from a proper Sufjan Stevens album. This time, instead of painstakingly humanizing the locations, historical inhabitants, and trivia of a certain slab of America, he’s more concerned with his own state of mind. Banjos are out; moody electronics, deep bass, and drums that burst like geysers are in. The lengthiest song title on his last LP, 2005’s Illinois, was 53 words long; here, that same superlative goes to a tune called “I Want to Be Well”. He’s whispering less, hollering more. And at the climax of The Age of Adz, the devout Christian and poster boy for mannered indie-dude sensitivity shouts, “I’m not fuckin’ around!” no less than 16 times. Believe him.
Yet, there is no mistaking this as a work by the Detroit-born, Brooklyn-dwelling overachiever. Trilling flutes, meticulously arranged choirs, and an overarching sense of hugeness are still apparent. The record’s last track, “Impossible Soul”, is a five-part suite that lasts more than 25 minutes and boasts harps, horns, blips, Auto-Tuned vocals, a twee-dance breakdown, some cheerleader call-and-response, and even a little trad-folk guitar picking, you know, for kicks. That single track bulges with more engaging ideas than most artists could muster in a career, and there’s no one else on earth that could’ve come up with it. Even the record’s glitched backdrop isn’t entirely unprecedented; Stevens’ pre-breakout 2001 instrumental album Enjoy Your Rabbit could be looked back on as a sketchbook for what would become The Age of Adz. So as Stevens’ current restlessness fights it out with his past accomplishments, the listener ends up winning. — Pitchfork