This last Tuesday, October 12th, Sufjan Stevens, released his first full length album in five years. If his new album The Age of Adz is put next to his last LP, Illinois, there would be little in common. Illinois was a sweeping masterpiece of tasteful orchestration, elegant melodies, and penetratingly pious lyrics exploring the human experience in response to a God that’s not always understood. The Age of Adz, on the other hand, is a major departure from the orchestrated folk feel and at times sounds more like schizophrenic house music and hip hop. His lyrical themes as well are far darker, ignoring much of his earlier motifs of the everyday human experience in response to God, and turning instead to the suffering always present in love and man’s response to apocalyptic judgment.
However, if one were to take the whole spectrum of Stevens’ discography, the The Age of Adz is not so much a clear departure from his past work, but more of a mature mixture of the previous experimentation done on other albums brilliantly combined together to create a very deep, layered, and difficult album. Stevens presents himself in this album to be far more grown up, but also far less accessible. He is not for everyone, but for those who have loved his past work, the new album is worth giving a few listens. There is way too much going on to fully realize in one listen.
As the Christianity Today review notes, there is some colorful language in the album, which leads them to deduce that he is not the Christian artist or even the “Christian who is an artist.” I have not spoken to Sufjan about his faith (although that would be a dream), so I can’t make a case either way. I do believe that an artist can include colorful language, express the challenges of love and suffering, and only speak of God through underpinnings and allusions and not deny his faith. When Sufjan released his earlier albums, especially Seven Swans, many believers (including myself) looked to him as the future hope of the full potential of what Christians making music were capable of. In the midst of our hopes, we made Stevens out to be a Christian hero that superceded his own ambitions and left him little room to fail. We forgot that he was an artist, a brilliant one at that, who is a man like everybody else and who’s goal was to make incredible music. He doesn’t now and will never fit into the mold Christians want him to, but then again, that’s what makes him great.
If you’re interested in listening to some of his tracks, Gorilla vs. Bear is streaming two here.