For the fans of Michigan dream/space rock ensemble Au Revoir Borealis, the wait for new music has been excruciating. Au Revoir Borealis burst onto the scene with 2000’s Tienken, an EP filled with exquisite female vocals, delayed guitars, and sophisticated lyrics. Since then, the band has enjoyed near-mythical status, as fans wait for a tantalizing full-length to be completed. In the meantime, Au Revoir Borealis tempted fans with maddeningly delicious (but few and far-between) musical treats, such as their three live acoustic radio mp3’s, their “Blissfield” track off of a Mass Trasnfer compilation, and their CD-stealing rendition of “Softly & Tenderly”, backing up Gary Murray on Ln’s classic Novel.Yet, save for these stellar songs, the musical output of this obviously talented band has been non-existent, leaving fans in despair.
However, with the release of For Wishes’ I Will Burn Your Winter, Au Revoir Borealis fans can listen to music from the band that they’ve longed to hear from. Kind of. Because For Wishes is the sort-of-solo-project of Steve Schwartz, one of the principals of Au Revoir Borealis. On I Will Burn Your Winter, Schwartz, backed up by members of his usual band, offers a collection of introspective folk-dream-space rock songs that, though differing stylistically and lyrically from Au Revoir Borealis’ releases, will likely please fans of the band. With lingering guitar lines, pensive moods, and an overall drifting atmosphere to the music, I Will Burn Your Winter is a dreamy affair. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this CD, however, is found in the lyrics. Though not as literary or vague as Tienken’s lyrics, the words that Schwartz pens and sings on I Will Burn Your Winter contain gorgeous phrases of devotion, longing, and love. Many of the lyrics, in fact, can be interpreted as being addressed to God; yet rather than coming across as preachy or trite, Schwartz’s words are emblazoned with passion and written with imagination and clarity. In this manner, I Will Burn Your Winter parallels the work of Sufjan Stevens on Seven Swans, or perhaps Ester Drang’s. Goldenwest, while retaining its own particular style. The end result is an emotionally potent CD of the kind of glorious emotional release and spiritual abandon that has become rare in today’s music, “Christian” or otherwise.
That For Wishes impresses with their lyrics is not to say that their music is unremarkable, but the main appeal of I Will Burn Your Winter definitely lies in the way that the band fuses their lyrics with a style of music well suited to them. The sounds the listener hears on I Will Burn Your Winter are sounds that music listeners are familiar with: a dose of Sigur Ros’ atmosphere, a pinch of Low’s melancholy and patience, a bit of Spiritualized’s slow grandeur, and a touch of Slowdive’s use of sonics. However, even though the style and choice of production used on I Will Burn Your Winter are familiar to the listener, For Wishes executes these sounds well, playing fluid electric guitar lines over a bed of subtle drones and strummed acoustic guitars. Keys and piano, live drums, and the sparse use of drum machines round out the musical soundscape, and For Wishes makes great use of all, adding well-thought out parts to support the songs. Au Revoir Borealis band mate Stephenie McWalters adds her signature dreamy vocals on a couple of tracks, adding dimension to Schwartz’s typically emotive vocals. While, for some, Schwartz’s slightly raspy voice may not be the most polished or elegant, his ability to sincerely convey the emotions of his songs is endearing. One can just feel Schwartz’s weariness as he sings along with McWalters and a moaning guitar on “The Farthest Expanse is Us”: “I’m wondering when the time will come…when the day will be…the moment when the scales fall off and the promise is made complete”. Or, on “Pale Horse at Paint Creek”, as Schwartz cries, “Though I could turn back to wrestle the demons, the warmth leaves my body and my breath slips away”, the listener can envision him fighting off tormenting spirits, due to his vocal performance. All throughout I Will Burn Your Winter, For Wishes is able to paint such vivid pictures of devotion and longing through their nicely executed music, lyrics, and songwriting. Lines such as, “you fade into the night, I will rush in”, sung sweetly over sparse instrumentation on the untitled hidden track, and the line “Give way your fragile breath to the night air that I might imagine this breeze as your loving exhaust running over me” sung on “My Lover Rests Tonight” permeate throughout the whole of the CD, bringing a glimmering vision of spirituality and sincerity.
Forgoing my usual practice of offering a track by track analysis of a CD, I think it’s best to say that I Will Burn Your Winter needs to be taken as a whole. While each song is strong enough and performed well enough to stand on its own, I Will Burn Your Winter is most impressive when taken as a whole: it’s cohesive, and the sequencing of the songs not only make for a sweet listen, but also tell a story of struggle and longing that ultimately ends on a redemptive note. In the end, I can honestly say that the combination of expressive vocals singing such touching words over a foundation of unspoiled music on I Will Burn Your Winter has touched my heart. My eyes get watery listening to some of these songs, as I get absorbed into the narrative that Schwartz tells. Is that not the mark of great art: not that the sounds are entirely inventive, but that the offerings of the artist touch the listeners and take them to a new place of understanding and looking at the world? In the end, the long wait for music from Au Revoir Borealis members was totally worth it. Highly recommended.