This Tuesday, the singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens released The Age of Adz, his sixth album and first official follow-up to 2005's Illinois. That album received near-universal acclaim and made Stevens one of the most closely-watched indie artists in the country. The Age of Adz (pronounced "odds") is said to be something of a departure for Stevens, as it incorporates electronic influences into his usual M.O. of lush, orchestral pop songs that use a lot of banjo and guitar.
'A Relatively Dark Affair' Pitchfork's Ryan Dombal praises Stevens for his maturing sound, saying the record finds him "sometimes forgoing his child-like naïveté for something more oblique and adult." Dombal also appreciates Stevens's commitment to the album form: "Instead of succumbing to trends, Stevens barrels through with another long-form work that requires--and rewards--time and devotion. As important questions about music's worth in the age of free continue to swirl around him, Sufjan's still combating instant-gratification culture the best way he knows how."
A Mixed Success, declares The A.V. Club's Noel Murray: "As an expression of a restless artist trying to stretch his own limits, The Age Of Adz is simultaneously admirable and exhausting ... More often than not, The Age Of Adz is too melodramatic, excessive, and dyspeptic to get across more than a generalized sense of unease." Still, he says, there are passages "by turns ambitious, weird, catchy, goofy, and ecstatic."
Focus, Sufjan! Sam Lewis at the BBC grants that "there are some beautiful moments in amongst the manic electronic experimentation," but overall finds the project "let down by its self-conscious incoherence. The Age of Adz is a record to admire, rather than to love."
Kitchen Sink Not Included The Boston Globe's Luke O'Neil supplies what may be the best metaphor in the discussion of Stevens's album: "It sounds like someone searched for the quickest route from Flaming Lips Boulevard to Prefuse 73 Street on Google Maps and crashed the car along the way." Where Stevens used past records to showcase his "gently plucked art-folk and strutting orchestral pop," The Age of Adz has a different subject in mind: "everything else, ever."
Stay With It, Listener, advises Entertainment Weekly's Simon Vozick-Levinson. "Don't be put off... the added layer of studio technology on The Age of Adz complements rather than distracts from the heartrending melodies and ambitious orchestration underneath." Nodding to Stevens's penchant for historical research, Vozick-Levinson adds that "this noted history buff is finally moving toward the future, and it suits him splendidly."