Release Date: Apr 2, 2012
Record label: The Leaf Label
Genre(s): Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock
AUBoth Lights[Hometapes; 2012]By Erik Burg; April 12, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGI’ve been thinking about this album for weeks now. The title has strred blankly back at me when I glance at my list of things to do. And yet I had managed to write tantamount to nothing. I couldn’t think of where to start, I couldn’t write anything as equally grandiose and ambitious as Both Lights, so I wrote nothing at all.
For all AU’s collaborative bonhomie on their previous proper full-length effort, ‘Verbs’, founder Luke Wyland returned to Portland lonely, having subsequently toured for almost two years. With collaborators and friends having moved away, he tackled this album alone, secluded for 10 months in a makeshift studio – an alien process for someone accustomed to an instantaneous, free-form approach. Yet from such uncertainty arrives a multicoloured explosion of afrobeat, jazz, art-pop and more that amplifies each pain of creation and the elation of its completion; the Colin Stetson-featuring ‘Solid Gold’ is the blueprint, but every track brims with exuberant life.
Portland churns out more than its fair share of creative types overly endowed with self-belief, but duo AU might be something else entirely; not only naming the lead single from this third album the rather presumptuous Solid Gold (an element they also try to alchemise with their band name, if my sketchy memories of school Science lessons are anything to go by), but choosing to open it, perhaps with a touch of hubris, with a track entitled Epic; a track which itself opens with what sounds suspiciously like a drum solo, before introducing widdly guitar riffing, and, just to be as instantly difficult as possible, there's even the insanely gifted (but arguably unlistenable) saxophonist de nos jours Colin Stetson running through his scales in the background. Conventional wisdom suggests that no-one likes a smart arse, but while its true (for many reasons) that Both Lights wont exactly sell by the bucketload, there's something about it that proves unexpectedly winsome. Give Epic a couple of minutes to get into its stride and, while the barrage doesn't exactly let up, it does gradually blossom, and Stetson in particular proves to be a wonderful addition; the long drawn out notes that he provides towards the end not only create something tangible to hang onto while everything around them shifts and writhes, but also an unexpected emotional uplift.
At a mere 40 minutes and change, Both Lights is still practically too much for one sitting. On AU’s third album, the Portland, Oregon duo charges through a schizo array of compositions at such an unintuitive pace that it never quite satisfies as a whole. Song for song, part for part, Luke Wyland and Dana Valatka and assorted guest performers are so on top of their instrumental game that it’s hard to knock them for a little hyperactivity.
AU's third album finds the duo of Luke Wyland and Dana Valatka continuing in their general vein of studio experimentation and rock-as-container-of-possibilities rather than end-all and be-all, though Both Lights isn't always completely on the money. Starting off an album with a instrumental called "Epic" could certainly be a sort of statement of purpose -- even if the song in question isn't a cover of Faith No More's break-out hit. Yet there's a big trebly noise out of the guitars and agreeably pounding drums as well, not to mention some swelling orchestral arrangements toward the end, so call it a more straightforward version on the idea.
Both Lights, Luke Wyland's latest LP as AU, is never the same from one moment to the next. Prismatic, kaleidoscopic, and oversaturated with color, it endlessly resituates itself between towering chamber-folk, cyclonic Marnie Stern-style spazz, and orchestral psych. Between its frantic opener "Epic" and its swooning closer "Don't Lie Down", Wyland and drummer Dana Vlatka whip through ostentatious sonic cathedrals at breakneck speed.
As a musician, Luke Wyland wears his classically trained chops on his sleeve. Listen to any track from the catalog of his Portland-based, experimental folk-pop project AU and it’s fairly obvious the guy is an immensely talented vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and composer. Marked with equal parts jazz-influenced and indie rock bombast, each of AU’s first three releases (2007’s self-titled debut, 2008’s Verbs, and 2009’s Visions) featured a talented, small village of collaborators that admirably buoyed Wyland’s seismic musical vision.
This duo is at its best when being earthily monumental, with an emphasis on the mental. Martin Longley 2012 This duo from Portland, Oregon, sound rather European considering that they’re Americans. Also, for a twosome, they sound very much like an orchestra. This third album is AU’s first for the always-adventurous Leaf Label.
Portland’s AU is a study in juxtaposition. Over the course of two LPs, songwriter Luke Wyland and percussionist Dana Valatka have earned more than their fair share of Animal Collective comparisons by churning out genuinely freakish experimental folk music, but there’s also a preoccupation with Terry Riley-inspired minimalism that counteracts the group’s most jarring aberrations with undulating ambience. And, while AU’s achieved a respectable level of indie notoriety thanks to nods from the likes of Stereogum and Pitchfork, I can’t fathom why this band hasn’t yet attained the sort of ubiquity that Portlandia seems to be enjoying right now.
‘Both Lights’ is the third full-length from Portland Oregon pop experimentalists AU, and it is an album bursting with ambition and sonic invention. The duo of multi-instrumentalists Luke Wyland and Dana Valatka explore every inch of their musical influences and landscapes over 11 tracks of compelling experimental sounds.AU have been compared to other experimentally minded US groups like Animal Collective in the past, but ‘Both Lights’ is a far bigger and bolder affair than their previous work, bringing to mind the sound of Battles at their most propulsive. It certainly takes some chutzpah to name the opening track on your album ‘Epic’ but in this case, it is a fitting title.
It starts with a thunder-crack snare hit and a galloping drum-beat, a frantic percussive workout that sounds like it should be accompanying visuals of someone running for their life. Then comes the guitar, a shredding, hyper-speed metallic riff circling around and around the drums like a spirograph pattern, followed by a repeated keyboard scale that weaves its way into the few remaining spaces. Thirty seconds into Both Lights, the third full-length offering from Portland experimentalists AU, you're already reeling, and then - suddenly - the sensory bombardment stops.
Portland duo AU have more ideas than songs on their third album. Both Lights is an incredibly messy record that doesn't know what it wants to be, and that makes it a frustrating listen that occasionally suggests greatness. On paper, this should be a great album: Luke Wyland's voice has the type of range that can effortlessly soar above the music; Dana Valatka's time with Jackie O Motherfucker has given him the ability to change styles at the drop of a hat; and they even have Colin Stetson onboard with his saxophone.