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Sufjan Stevens-Age of Adz

Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz recalls the debut of Radiohead’s Kid A exactly a decade ago—it is that much of a dramatic stylistic shift and is equally broad in scope as the seminal 2000 release. It is unclear whether this record foreshadows a permanent change in direction or a brief experiment for Stevens; regardless, it is a towering accomplishment that stands alone in the folk artist’s considerable discography.

A brief opening track, “Futile Devices,” is the only foray into old territory, with its delicate acoustic composition. But listeners can say goodbye to the familiar with the very next track, the bombastic “Too Much.” Stevens replaces his staple guitar with glitchy samples, and elegant string orchestration gives way to blaring brass and dissonant woodwinds. In fact, the few guitar-driven sections of the album are electric, another oddity for Stevens. The transformation is so complete that the fleeting moments of acoustic guitar serve as jarring juxtaposition against the synthesized chaos.

In the midst of the complex layers of sound, the singer’s haunting voice remains unchanged—and is the real showcase of the collection. Stevens’ vocals reach dizzying heights, breaking free of the effects-laden music to unify the intricate, multifaceted tracks. The penultimate work, “I Want to be Well,” is perhaps the highlight of the LP, with Stevens attaining an almost operatic quality. And the very final track, the 25-minute long “Impossible Soul,” is equally poignant in lyrics and vocals, tying together myriad, freeform sections of differing styles.

The Age of Adz asks a great deal of patience on the part of the listener, especially longtime fans who are expecting another Illinois. But an open mind will reveal a prolific musician’s creative landmark, and consequently one of the finest albums of the year.

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