Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I woke up this a.m. and as usual started my espresso then checked emails. Like always the N Y Times was there. I found an article critiquing this guys show at the Beacon Theater last night. I had never heard of Mr. Stevens, but liked what I read. Stacey came in and glanced at what I was reading and inquired. Don't know I told her, but check this out. I showed her how in less the a minute we could hear samples of his songs on and purchase them if we like. 99 cents and they are downloaded to your itunes page right away. The article about the show talked about images projected on a large screen throughout the show. It mention some of the images were from an outsider artist, Royal Robertson, a Louisiana sign painter. So of course I needed to know about him. When I googled Royal Robertson I found, among other things, the article I have copied below. I love being able to do this.

Sufjan Stevens' musical 'Age' is still maturing

by Taylor Baker
Contributing Writer

Arts | 10/19/10
Posted online at 1:46 AM EST on 10/19/10

Many songs on 'Adz' were inspired by Royal Robertson.
Media Credit: Marzuki Stevens/Asthmatic Kitty
Many songs on 'Adz' were inspired by Royal Robertson.

It's funny that no matter how much someone changes, they still stay the same. That's what first comes to mind when thinking of Sufjan Stevens' new album, The Age of Adz. In his most recent album, Stevens lays on the electronica to his usual combination of intricately layered vocals, soaring choruses, orchestral arrangements and a slew of other instruments that all add up to his unique sound. For anyone familiar with Stevens, his new album will be a bit of a departure, despite the fact that he released an electronic album in 2001, which, in my opinion, was not enjoyable at all. Unfortunately, it seems that his 2001 album was a precursor to his new one.

After abandoning his 50 States project-Stevens planned on releasing one album for every state of the Union but later revealed the attempt was a gimmick-Stevens released several other albums. One album consisted of B-sides, another was a compilation of Christmas songs, the third was an instrumental album inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in New York City and he also released EP that was a prelude of sorts to Adz. The Age of Adz is Stevens' first full-length album without an overarching theme of a state, like his previous two Michigan and Illinois. Instead of providing narratives of being bitten by a wasp in Palisades Park or of a man living in Michigan slowly losing the grip on his life, Stevens indulges listeners with much more personal, romantic and apocalyptic narratives.

Now, don't get me wrong. The Age of Adz is not a terrible album-there are some really great songs and there are certain parts I could listen to over and over again. Moreover, I'd say the introduction of electronic elements to Stevens' sound is not a horrible idea; however, there are some points where the screwy sound effects bear down on the music and the listener.

Adz starts off with "Futile Devices," a song that could have easily been on any of Stevens' previous albums. The song consists of a simple melody, a guitar and Stevens' timid, somewhat haunting voice. Then, as if to say, "That was then, this is now," the next song, "Too Much," comes to life with an aquatic, electronic beat. In "Too Much," Stevens melds the relatively new, electronic sound with his usual intricate orchestral sound. This is one of the standout songs of Stevens' album-it's an introduction to how personal the album will be. Also, at certain points, this song is very cinematic. It reminded me of an intergalactic space war, which is most likely an homage to Royal Robertson, a paranoid schizophrenic painter whose art often depicted futuristic space scenes of the End of Days. Stevens' website confirms that The Age of Adz is partly inspired by Robertson's art.

There is also a futuristic, cinematic sound in the next song bearing the same name as the album. Age of Adz is familiar in that it soars in some places with compounds of sleigh bells, trumpets and choirs and then quiets down in others with only Sufjan's melancholic voice and guitar. It is in this song that Stevens introduces his apocalyptic and Biblical allusions, a trademark of sorts in his music: He includes everything from the glory of God being in everyone to the prospect of eternity and the Earth's breaking apart. All of these images aside, Stevens finishes the song apologizing for his selfishness, shortcomings and inability to persevere.

Other high points on Stevens' album are: "Get Real Get Right," another song with vivid imagery, trippy, electronic beats and backing choirs echoing the haunting message of the song and "I Want to Be Well." The latter song is the most honest and aggressive one on the album. The explicit despair over a messed-up relationship and desperate search for peace yield an exquisite, heartbreaking, haywire vocal bridge.

I think The Age of Adz can be summed up in its last song, "Impossible Soul," the album's 25-minute opus. The song, like the album, can drag at times and get a bit overbearing with the electronic samples but is redeemed by some truly magnificent parts. The third part-I broke up the song into four parts in order to better digest it-which starts at around the 14 minute mark, proves to be the best. It is upbeat and expressive, and the electronic effects meld perfectly with the layered vocals and instruments.

For the most part, The Age of Adz works. It's exciting to see Sufjan Stevens' sound evolve: We just might need to wait a bit longer for that evolution to reach a less awkward stage.

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