After 2005’s Illinois and its 2006 companion The Avalanche, Sufjan Stevens took a long break before emerging with last year’s The BQE, a multimedia, orchestral project that edged away from the meticulous, richly melodic music that won him so many fans—and more than a few detractors. Continuing in that direction, earlier this year, Stevens released the hourlong EP All Delighted People, and now the even-longer LP The Age Of Adz. Both feature a few songs in Stevens’ soft, pretty mode, but also test listener patience with lengthy jams, abstract arrangements, and burbling electronics. As an expression of a restless artist trying to stretch his own limits, The Age Of Adz is simultaneously admirable and exhausting. Stevens’ core style hasn’t changed: He still favors short, repetitive melodic patterns that reach upward before retreating, sung in a breathy, angelic voice. This time, though, he’s replaced the layers of symphonic orchestration with more jarring sounds, dripping mud and acid over his own precious self-reflection. More often than not, The Age Of Adz is too melodramatic, excessive, and dyspeptic to get across more than a generalized sense of unease. But songs like the propulsive “I Want To Be Well” and “Too Much” are as epiphanic as they are noisy, and though it’s sure to be divisive, the 25-minute “Impossible Soul” is a bravura summation of the current state of Stevens. It’s by turns ambitious, weird, catchy, goofy, and ecstatic. And it goes on forever.
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