Sufjan Stevens played the Bowery Ballroom this fall and it was sold out as a matter of course. It had been four years and a little bit since he played five straight nights at the same venue promoting his masterpiece, Illinois. At one of those 2005 shows, he called on the imagery of prom night, even having two members of the audience slow dance to cement this in our guts: It was prom night. By this winter it was not prom night anymore. It had been four years and he had done some weird things and we hadn't really heard from him. This felt more like getting coffee with an estranged ex-girlfriend.
Stevens played new material that cold night this past October. Odd electronics mixed with a-rhythmic verses and even occasional dissonance as the audience glanced around nervously. But if it was unsettling for the crowd, it was certainly not for Stevens. These were his first new, original songs since 2004 and he seemed at home in a new direction, away from states and towards something nearly futuristic and vaguely uncomfortable. That collection is The Age of Adz, due October 12 and it will represent this new artist who so blithely wrinkled his own fans noses at Bowery a year ago.
This is not to say The Age of Adz will be badly experimental, merely that it marks a serious break. If anything can be gathered from first track, "I Walked," it is that Stevens is still exploring the outer reaches of chamber-pop, haunting background vocals and soaring melodies in tow. But the aesthetic is undeniably different. Other than Sufjan's trademark keep-it-like-a-secret hushed vocals, the soundscape bears little resemblance to anything in his heretofore discography. The lyrics address the reality of walking away (or is it chasing someone) while Stevens himself moves from where we left him to where The Age of Adz will leave us. It will be different and it is most certainly not 2005. He is moving on and we are moving too, whether we move together is absolutely up for debate.