Au Revoir Borealis: Dark Enough for Stars (Utter East, 2008)
Michigan dreampop/post-rock group Au Revoir Borealis has achieved an almost mythical status among listeners due to their sporadic but high-quality output. Since 2000, the band has released a limited repertoire of gorgeous songs on 1 EP (Tienken) as well as the odd compilation track here and there. With gorgeous layered guitar tones, strong songwriting, pensive lyrics, and mesmerizing vocals sung by Stephenie Halpert McWalters<, Au Revoir Borealis seemed poised to take their place among the most respected bands in indie music. However, this early promise was not solidified by the band throughout the decade. True, Halpert McWalters delivered a gorgeous cameo appearance on Ln’s well-received Novel CD in 2003, and Au Revoir Borealis member Steve Swartz’s 2005 solo effort under the name For Wishes was a fresh contribution to the world of music. The mystique that surrounded the band remained, though, with listeners treasuring their few existent tracks, while rumors swirled on the internet about the recording of a new Au Revoir Borealis album.
It would’ve been easy for Au Revoir Borealis to pack it in, claiming their legendary renown as a sort of trophy. However, just as the winds begin to cool and the leaves begin to wilt in the oncoming Michigan autumn, Au Revoir Borealis has put their legend on the line with the release of a new full-length CD. Boasting 12 tracks (double their output in the preceding eight years!), Dark Enough for Stars is a slow-burning gem of a CD that amazingly exceeds the Au Revoir Borealis reputation of artistic ingenuity. The album is formatted and sequenced as an integral whole that takes the listener on a journey of sadness and melancholy towards a sense of hope and closure. All of the elements that impressed listeners of the band in the past are intact, including those delectably layered guitars, strong melodies, and that divine Halpert McWalters voice. However, the band also shows remarkable growth on Dark Enough for Stars, not only by musically and lyrically linking the songs together into one profound artistic statement, but also by broadening their musical palate. The band incorporates acoustic guitars, strings, and piano into the mixes of their songs, and forgoes the more strictly ambient approach in their early instrumental pieces. Additionally, Au Revoir Borealis enlists the help of an impressive roster of guest artists to round out the sound of Dark Enough for Stars, including Gary Murray (brainchild of the aforementioned Ln, Jessica Bailiff, Anna Lynne Williams (of Trespassers William), and the touring cellist for Josh Groban and Jens Lekman. Notably, though, the presence of these guest musicians do not outshine the core members of Au Revoir Borealis, as the band writes and plays delicately meditative music with confidence and sensitivity.
As evidence of this, the tracks on Dark Enough for Stars that really sparkle feature the original band members. For instance, the aptly-titled opening “The Winter Room”, with its forlorn delayed guitars storming over a morose Halpert McWalters singing, “The shadows move like water/Reflecting on a wall”, instantly reminds listeners of the wistful atmosphere that Au Revoir Borealis so skillfully conjures up in their music. Another fascinating track featuring the core members of the band is “Dark Western”, with its layers of ably-played slide guitars and world-weary attitude exuding a mysterious desert feel. “Genius of Escape Who Will Startle & Amaze” , a softer track with picked acoustic guitars, percussive flourishes, and underlying ambient setting, is also a highlight of the album. Melodically, “Genius of Escape Who Will Startle & Amaze” most resembles the band’s songwriting from the past, with the strong melody that supports Halpert McWalters as she sings, “Under the water, Padlock and chain, Moving like a dream, Twisting to escape” seems comfortingly familiar. Another standout track, “The Key” also exudes this melodically familiar feel to it, as Halpert McWalters shows off her effortlessly gliding vocal range over a concoction of atmospheric sounds.
Of course, the guest artists shine in their own right on Dark Enough for Stars. “The World is Too Much for Us” features Williams and Halpert McWalters harmonizing angelically, while Murray and Halpert McWalters sing gracefully in unison on “Maps of the Sky”, which is the album’s emotional climax. The strings parts offered by the other guests throughout the album, most notably on “After The Snowstorm”, and “Stella, My Brightest Star”, add warmth and a touch of exquisiteness to the album. Bailiff‘s wordless vocals on “Stella, My Brightest Star”, which are construed as another instrument in the song, really, are otherworldly. Yet, in the midst of these fine performances, Au Revoir Borealis musical vision and sensitivity is unitary, and the guest spots are effectively used to support the overarching themes that the band is conveying, which is quite a feat given the quality of guest artists. The CD truly sounds like a community of artists coming together to create a cohesive work of art, rather than a number of disparate individuals disjointedly adding their own ideas. All of the various parts that make up the whole of Dark Enough for Stars, from the familiar atmospheric guitars and melodic approach to the new acoustic instruments and guest artists, join together to present a nuanced piece of art that brings hope and warmth to listeners looking for more than just pretty music (which the disc also brings in ample measures).
While the descriptor of “dreamy folk-tinged shoegaze-influenced music” might come close to describing Dark Enough for Stars, no mere genre description can quite capture the magic that Au Revoir Borealis harnesses on this disc. It’s evident that the talented artists of the band are gifted in their ability to compose and perform music that speaks deeply to listeners, even after their long self-imposed hiatus. It’s also obvious that the band has poured themselves into this effort, ensuring that Dark Enough for Stars is a recording overflowing with the musical, lyrical, and spiritual shades that such works of love produce. Fans of the projects of the guest artists (Trespassers William, Ln, Jessica Bailiff) will enjoy this record, as will fans of other seminal acts such as Mazzy Star, Cocteau Twins and Sigur Ros. Highly recommended!
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