Stevens’ electronic rhythms shift to intimacy

In Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club,” Tyler Durden says, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” Sufjan Stevens’ abandonment of the 50 States Project after completing only Michigan and Illinois left him in a similar position. After five years of stagnancy, Stevens brings us the electronic, schizophrenic, implosive, post-modern, carefully orchestrated mess of an album “The Age of Adz”. It sounds like an internal battle and deconstructs itself as Stevens explores themes of love, faith, anxiety and suicide. The expansive album embodies folk, pop and hip-hop sensibilities, yet sounds like a chamber orchestra of analog synths. Stevens’ classic trilling flutes and choral refrains are still there and are are beautiful nonetheless, but this is a different Sufjan. Perhaps he’s lost his mind, a lover or his faith — whatever it is, an absence has birthed some sort of overload and what arguably may be one of the best albums to spring from the wake of Animal Collectives’ 2009 release “Merriweather Post Pavillion.”  The album bleeps, bloops, fizzes, swirls and swells through Stevens’ existential crisis. Though there are refrains, it’s less a verse-chorus structured concept album like Stevens’ previous work than it is shape and color shifting a primal and intergalactic battle between Sufjan and himself. Stevens’ lyrics are more self-referential and intimate than ever before, yet they still seem to hold a higher meaning.  In “Vesuvius,” he compares himself to the volcano that buried Pompeii in ash and seems aware that this step in his musical career is a risky one, as he sings: “Sufjan, follow the path/it leads to an article of imminent death/Sufjan, follow your heart/follow the flame.” He may get a little preachy in “Get Real Get Right” when he sings, “You know you really gotta get right with the Lord,” but this song may be a nod to the schizophrenic visions of a future of aliens and a dark age by artist Royal Robertson, whose art Stevens showcases on the album.  “The Age of Adz” seems schizophrenic in and of itself. Horns and choral refrains battle synth armies in the title track, then ends quietly with Sufjan singing over an acoustic guitar. His filtered vocals seem detached from the clean guitar sound and it seems like there is a disconnect between Sufjan and himself.  Paradoxically, panning shocks of static seem to be the most consistent sound throughout the album; it’s held together by sounds of disintegration. There is an urgency to “The Age of Adz” — a tension that doesn’t resolve. There’s a sense that this is a product from an authentic Sufjan, but that even he’s not sure who that is. It’s scheduled to release Oct. 12 by Asthmatic Kitty Records, the same day he kicks off his tour with a show at Metropolis in Montreal. Until then, you can stream it for free at www.npr.org.