I just heard local avant-pop band Au for the first time a couple of weeks ago, so you'll have to forgive me if I gush. You see, my love is still fresh, and being newly smitten I may be prone to idealizing the object of my affection. I think this is the real thing, guys. Because darn if I don't swoon every time I put on Au's newly released, self-titled debut album and give myself up to its eight gorgeous tracks of shimmering, consonant experimentalism.
The light touch, unusual instrumentation, and refreshingly unabashed commitment to both tunefulness and sonic bushwhacking that make Au such a pleasure to listen to, are on display in the album's first and most immediately accessible track "Boute," which is currently making all the right internet rounds, garnering praise on Pitchfork and Stereogum. The song begins with a gently cycling minimalist piano figure that would be at home in a Philip Glass or John Adams piece. Before long, this lush, slightly sad two-chord pattern is punctuated by the quietest of drum rolls, which gives way to a steady pulse of timid rim-shots, kick drum, and chiming cymbals. Finally, the rich voice of Au mastermind Luke Wyland joins in, the instrument which gives the simple song its structure, as it oscillates between a controlled, swelling tenor melody and a sweet falsetto "ooh-la-la" exclamation signaling the ecstatic shift between verse and chorus. Four minutes and a few crescendo/decrescendos later, the music slows and stops, and in that brief time Au manages to erase the high art/low art boundary between American contemporary classical music and American pop music, blending them into a simple, compelling, verse-chorus celebration.
Au continue to explore the borderlands of American music over the course of the rest of the album, but they never do it the same way twice, touching upon the folk, bluegrass, spiritual, and drone traditions with their accordions, mandolins, saws, guitars, pianos, and sundry percussion without ever coming across as dilettantes. Wyland is backed by a number of collaborators and supporting players, but the core of Au is clearly the tremendously talented Mark Kaylor on drums, and Jonathan Sielaff on, well, too many instruments to list here. The trio, who currently constitute the band's live lineup, are longtime players in Portland's improvised music community and consequently, as their terrific set at Valentine's last week demonstrated, Au is the rare band that can reinvent its songs live and still manage to match their recorded quality. See for yourself at a house show Thursday, June 21 at 32 N Cook where, beginning at 8 pm, Au will be performing with Ah Holly Fam'ly, Shelley Short, and Ohioan. You will not be disappointed.