Wednesday, December 19, 2007

best album by three brunettes from brooklyn

i don't know anyone who really likes au revoir simone as much as i do (i like them a lot). i've been trying to get my friends to listen to the bird of music, the brooklyn trio's sophomore album, for months now, but they can't really hear its charm or understand the allure of its tender and restrained aura. which is really a shame, since it's been my sleeper hit of the year since its release in may by our secret record company. the bird of music is simple and not aurally or intellectually taxing, which automatically sets it apart from many of the more "acclaimed" 2007 releases (seriously, what the fuck is up with this shit?) and may contribute to why its been so overlooked (bloggers being the arrogant s.o.b.s that we are). in reality, the bird of music, though simple, is sophisticated nonetheless, has incredible staying power, and is often just plain great.

au revoir simone is the result of a fortuitous train encounter in 2003 between the band's lead songwriters, erika forster and annie hart, and with the addition of heather d'angelo, they had a band. all three ladies play keyboards, imbuing their music with the saccharine sweetness that defines their sound, without overpowering ears. d'angelo, in addition to playing keys, is au revoir simone's beatmaker, manning the drum machine. the bird of music really runs the gamut stylistically; while their sound is consciously limited by the one-dimensionality of their instrumentation, au revoir simone tweaks their approaches on a song-by-song basis, so that some songs are gentle and harmonic, while others have such fuzzed-out keyboard distortion that it almost brings sonic youth to mind, all within a melodic and poppy framework. they're not the next ween or anything, and i'm not trying to imply that the bird of music is anything but sweet, catchy pop music, because that's all it is. but, at the same time, it's pretty damn intelligent, and the ways these ladies wield their keyboards is certainly impressive as well as addicting.

the best pop music, i think, is the kind you can't really over-intellectualize - after all, the best thing about songs like "toxic" is there's no thinking involved on your part. a lot of time and energy (and, dare i say, brilliance) went into manufacturing such a flawless, mindless song. now, au revoir simone certainly aren't britney spears's songwriters, and they are targeting a...more "discerning" audience, perhaps, than "toxic" was designed for, but the basic principle of pop remains the same - you're not supposed to think about it too much, at least as a listener. you're supposed to enjoy it, and absorb it so that it becomes familiar and comforting. au revoir simone's touch is so light and their hooks are so goddamn big that the bird of music becomes familiar before you even realize it, their melodies wending the way to your brain. i find listening to the bird a refreshing experience, especially in this weather - the album's production is so stark, so restrained, the notes round and smooth - it's very digestible and satisfying.

au revoir simone make songs like painters who can't stand to see the canvas - every inch of the sonic map is covered, plotted, filled with music. there is a gentle, steam-like hiss in "lark," for example, constant during the entire song, which is just one layer of the immaculately designed complexity that three keyboards can create. they stack rhythms, melodies, creating full songs from slight beginnings. as complex and well-designed as au revoir simone's songs are, however, each element is crafted to buttress the others, so that the overall effect is a full, not disjointed, affair. the most appealing part of their music may be their own voices, which function is a similar fashion. all three sing on every track, in unison and in harmony, and what makes their voices especially appealing is that they are the only organic sounds on the record. the stiffness of the drums and the flatness of the notes are so alien that the ear latches on to their rich voices like a bee to honey. (i believe all three are altos, and i can sing along to many of their songs without straining my voice, which is definitely another reason i like them so much. winning the singalong vote is crucial.)

though the words are often buried in the mix, au revoir simone's lyrics are a definite highlight of the bird of music, cheerful and melancholy both, sincere reflections from life. some of the album's best lyrics are on "fallen snow," an apt title. keyboards trundle along with sleigh-like regularity, and bells are heard in the background, and has all the cheer of the holiday season. "nothing's worse than seeing you worse than me / nothing hurts like seeing you hurt like me" is one such choice line, but the whole effect is to capture the frightening future. "depressing things are empty beds and lonely dinners / women who are middle-aged with naked fingers" could be the best line on the album - a shockingly self-aware recognition of the possibility of a lonely life. "stars," on the other hand, feels like a kicker from the first burst of tinkly piano, a bubblegum-sweet song about meeting a boy, with the winning chorus of "you make me wanna match the stars in the backyard / with a calculator and a ruler, baby." "dark halls" and "night majestic" are two other excellent tunes, the former a cheerful ditty about bus trips to boston and the latter a cute songs about horses.

electropop hasn't gotten much love since give up, but that hasn't stopped au revoir simone. the bird of music is really a lovely album, and i know it's one that i will listen to for past december 31. their fuzzy sweetness is familiar to me, and comforting. for me, it's a blanket album - i can play it pretty much anywhere, at any time, and always be satisfied by my choice. i don't expect you to be blown away, but it's not that kind of an album. if you like what you hear the first time, listen to it again, and you'll like it even more.

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