Here’s a fabulous interview with one of my favorites, Sufjan Stevens, on faith, his new album, and the role of the musician in the age of the internet.
I’m mulling over ideas for an article on The Age of Adz. Musically, it’s quite different from anything previous (save for Enjoy Your Rabbit, as the introduction on Bandcamp notes). Conceptually, even, it marks a departure: the persona of Sufjan himself–as artist, moral agent, lover–takes center stage, though the familiar territory of sinful depravity (a la “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”) and interpersonal reconciliation (a la “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”) arises discernibly in the major tracks.
The title track, “The Age Of Adz,” comprises an electronica tour de force, a noisy prophetic inauguration of a new era whose continuity with the present age is asserted only via the presence of the speaker. Is this Adz, the infamous futuristic alien monster of Royal Robertson’s artwork? Is it Sufjan? Is it us, each one in his or her terrible uniqueness–yet equally terrible complicity in this death which “rot[s]”? Without getting too theological, I’d like to draw attention to the unmistakably Barthian dialectic between the immanent and eschatological “Age of Adz”:
When it dies, when it dies
And when it lives, when it lives
It gives it all its got
This is the Age of Adz
The dialectic is later internalized by the speaker.
When I die, when I die
But when I live, when I live
I’ll give it all I’ve got
These lines initially appear pithy, like a cloyingly positive pop hit. Taken as the individual’s appropriation of the theological reality of the new age, however, they gather a gravity altogether foreign to Justin Bieber and Katy Perry.
Not to mention the gravity afforded by the music. The electro-orchestral backing to the track, as is fitting, serves to transport the listener to the world of the commanding-if-outlandish announcer of this new age. It’s a world where, while the depravity admitted by the speaker (notably, in “Vesuvius”) remains real, the hope of reconciliation and personal transformation is not so much boldly proclaimed as humbly imparted by the prophet.
The final, 26-minute track, “Impossible Soul,” recalls an earlier outro ballad, “Vito’s Ordination Song,” from the M!chigan album. Both tracks offer repetitive, encouraging mantras formulated by Sufjan and co. (“Boy, we can do so much more together… It’s not so impossible…”) The resolution is complete. Sufjan and lover (or is it Lover–the Absolute Other??) are reunited, emboldened to embrace the impossible future–the new age–with a reoriented soul.
A soul resurrected.