Sufjan Stevens’ latest effort, The Age of Adz, contains no shortage of quirky qualities. This Michiganian has the ability to blend, bend, and warp acoustic instruments – xylophone, banjo, sitar, piano, and English horn to name a few – to create spacey, wholly-unique new sounds, a la The Flaming Lips or Black Moth Super Rainbow. I could easily hit my 300-word limit with a slew of vague adjectives, like dazzling, bizarre, disjointed, and unsettling to describe this album. However, I would rather focus on the key theme: schizophrenia.
To really appreciate this, or any record, one must listen to it from end to end. Don’t be alarmed if you are left feeling disoriented, scratching your head. That’s the point. There is a story hidden in the blasting laser beams of “Too Much”, the menacing orchestra in “Age of Adz”, and the computerized beat of “Vesuvius”. It just happens to be a story narrated by the late artist, Royal Robertson – Prophet Royal Robertson, to be precise.
Robertson, a paranoid schizophrenic, began his career painting signs. However, he developed his idiosyncratic, comic-book style after his 19-year marriage came to a screeching halt. The album art of The Age of Adz consists of several excerpts from Robertson’s catalogue, much of which is held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. His work depicts monsters, crumbling globes, and other cheery bits of chaos. He even uses speech balloons, not unlike those found in Family Circus, to disseminate misogynistic messages, often directed toward his ex-wife, Adell. He considered himself a visionary seeking to warn others of the impending apocalypse. As Sufjan’s songs often explore biblical themes, this seemingly unlikely pairing of artists may not be so unlikely after all.