It's been five whole years since Sufjan Stevens penetrated the masses with his second US State illustrating album 'Illinois'. Since then he's been doling out outtakes and Christmas songs, not to mention his outlandish soundtrack for art film 'The BQE'. But people forget that Sufjan has always been a bit of an odd fish. 2001's 'Enjoy Your Rabbit', for example, was an electronic playground offering a song for each animal in the Chinese zodiac. Thankfully for us, 'The Age of Adz' finds a marvellous middle ground between Sufjan's more familiar lush, orchestral folk musings and his penchant for all things experimental.
Sufjan has always been a touch self-indulgent, and while The Age Of Adz is practically conventional in comparison to some of his previous work, he does have a tendency to make things unnecessarily and even distractingly over-complicated. While some of the electronics employed here enhance these tracks with their changing rhythms and textures, others are downright irritating. Yet beneath each of them lies one of Sufjan's simple folk melodies, as delightfully intoxicating as they've ever been, and surrounded by as many histrionic orchestral embellishments and flowery choral harmonies as one would expect from the man behind Illinois.
The Age of Adz' most beautiful moments are those that are more sombre. 'Vesuvius,' in particular, matures gradually from its simple piano opening to a buzzing hive of whinnying and bubbling effects, fantastical flutes and competing voices. That said, the more intense, cinematic nature of the title track is equally potent, particularly when played at high volume. An enormously busy album, there's so much going on here it takes time to fully take it on board. Closing with the 25 minute marathon that is 'Impossible Soul', if you can make it that far you'll be treated to an acoustic ditty that provides the perfect recovery, reminiscent as it is of his stronger 'Seven Swans' material. Sufjan's a strange one, that's for sure, but he may just be a genius.