In the days since My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive blew music listeners away with their brand of ethereal shoegaze rock (which was fashioned on the noise-pop and dream-pop stylings of bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Cocteau Twins, artists have been seeking to follow in their footsteps to delve more deeply into shoegaze. For over a decade and a half, artists (usually without the same acclaim as the above-mentioned bands) have been adding elements to shoegaze and dreampop, endeavouring to find their place in the annals of rock history, and to establish their art as truly expressing their lives. Oftentimes, the sonic experiments falter, borrowing too heavily from the original pioneers of this musical movement. However, there are instances when an artist is able to capture their situated moment in time by shaping the sounds forged by the old masters into something contextualized, fresh, and their own. Such is the case with Canadian band’s Au4’s On: Audio through their blend of slowly developing songs full of dreamy atmospherics (a la Slowdive) blended with 2006 electronics and a subtle restraint in their songwriting and execution that brings a clean sophistication to their songs. The band’s patience and attention to detail, along with their penchant for experimenting subtly with different sounds and ideas, evoke the poise of a confident and focussed band.
Now, blending electronics with shoegaze/dreampop is actually nothing new, as My Bloody Valentine accomplished that very achievement (as did Cocteau Twins before them), but where Au4 stands out is in the level of sophistication found on On: Audio due to the style of the band’s playing. The band prefers to sing gently and melodically over a dense but gentle foundation of dreamy atmospherics and drones, while eschewing huge shifts of dynamics like a Sigur Ros does. That’s not to say that On: Audio is devoid of passion: take for instance “An Ocean’s Measure of Sorrow”, as an instantly recognizable guitar and vocal melody is played and sung over a heavy drum beat and scorching electric guitars. But, even on this relatively dramatic song, the band’s sophistication again shines through with their delicate keyboard parts and layered background vocals. In the middle of the song, everything stops, save the keyboards, which play a gentle refrain while the listener regains their breath. After a short while, the band launches into their climactic outro, all the while retaining control of their intelligent music. Another highlight of On: Audio is the moody “The Tree That Lived and Died Right Before My Eyes”. Beginning quietly with a simple piano part that emits an echo over soft keyboards, the song morphs into a space-rock jam that reminds one of Ester Drang or Sigur Ros’s more melodic moments. “Hit and Miss”, the CD’s opening song, is likewise sleek, with its liquid bass line, falsetto background vocals, an elegant piano part, and subtle electronics. At the same time that On: Audio features extended space rock jams that soar with delicacy, songs such as “A Mile from Here Is a Hole Where I Buried Your Love” and “Paper Cuts from Paper Butterflies” demonstrate Au4’s ability to effortlessly craft songs around electronic music. Dense beats that are supported by warbling synths create the backdrop for songs that harness the busy electronics into a beautiful flow of sound. The CD ends with a combination of the band’s space rock and electronic tendencies, as Au4 unites these elements to create a masterful closing song that sums up the musical themes of On: Audio.
If it seems like this review of On: Audio is a little awkward, it’s because the elements of the music found on the CD are all elements we’ve heard before, yet Au4 combines them in a way that is fresh, sleek, and almost glossy, while retaining a quiet intensity throughout the songs. It’s an interesting balance: experimentalism with strange sounds while incorporating beautiful melodies and harmonies, electronics with guitar music, subtlety with obvious changes in dynamics. The result is an impressive collection of songs that swoon and sway the listener in a gentle fashion. Au4 has created a very very good album, a slowburner of a CD, really, that will overwhelm the listener in an almost sneaky, subtle way. Through this subtlety and attention to musical and sonic detail, Au4 has made long shoegaze/electronic/space-rock jams sound graceful and chic. Highly recommended for fans of Absinthe Blind (who Au4 most closely resembles), Malory, Ester Drang, Sigur Ros, etc.