20 May 2016

Declan's Hipster Hovel #5 | Au Revoir Simone - The Bird Of Music

Apologies for the brief hiatus from the Hipster Hovel ladies and gents; that last jazz record really took it out of me. In fact the last few jazz records really took it out of me. Double in fact, it hit me that with the exception of the first record, I’ve written exclusively about jazz-tinged stuff. And that’s cool, but we’re all about /diversity/, y’know. Jazz might be arguably the most diverse genre, but let’s get real here folks; you deserve more. So consider this my mini little mission statement thing, I’m opening up this thing.

With this in mind, I’d like to draw your attention to a little record that’s been buzzing around my ears for some time; The Bird of Music, the 2007 sophomore effort from New York synth/dream pop trio Au Revoir Simone. Now these folks might be a little more mainstream than anything I’ve looked at, but they’re hardly festival headline material, and whilst they are devoutly Pitchfork friendly (not that there’s anything wrong with that) I think they are criminally under-appreciated and deserve all the publicity they can get.

They’re a delightful band, and this record crystallizes perfectly their very specific charm, containing the electronic buzz of a New Order record, and the devout little harmonies of a Belle and Sebastian cut, in perfect tandem. Album closer The Way To There, arguably the strongest track on a record full of beasts, exemplifies this perfectly; all chilly yet warm electronic arrangements and soul-meltingly delightful violin overlay,  it builds and drops and rises and falls before exploding into a wonderful little crescendo. Lyrically, it’s gorgeous; "from every point in space/we’ve come to this place/so how can it not be fate/when we were made this way". Every song on the album is like this in some way; understated but a little bold, a little in awe, more nervous-excited than just nervous.

Opener The Lucky One is like this too, with a wonderful piano movement giving way to maracas, tinkly percussion, and the refrain “let the sunshine so/to show us that tomorrow is eventual”. Things pick up for track two (ostensibly the “poppiest” song on here), with a whiff of 8-bit chord-work and punchy drum machine, and lyrics which come across like a lover not asking their partner to stay, but instead willing them to stay. A synth interlude comes in like a horn-section solo. It’s this level of nuance that the album operates constantly on; wistful, dreamy and inflective, working that perfect intersection of the album’s overriding sound and the lyrics meanings.

If the whole thing just falls short of perfection (and it does fall short) it’s because of second-side track Stars, which just tips over into the wrong side of mawkishness; it’s a shame, because musically it’s a brilliant little number, but I just can’t quite get over the refrain “you make me wanna measure stars/in the backyard/with a calculator and a ruler baby”. It’s a jarring and distracting little bit that takes me out of the whole thing, however momentarily. And it’s doubly a shame because the opening burst of upwards-facing piano arrangement is one of the strongest on the whole thing.

But that’s it; everything else is of a uniform standard. I Couldn’t Sleep is a breathy and peppy simple tune; Don’t See The Sorrow opens with subdued drum claps and an instruction, “don’t see the sorrow/don’t let it creep up through your skin/because I read somewhere/what you like, you’ll find again/you’ll find it again”. It traces uncertainty brilliantly; that point where you know you need to drop something, be it a lover or a bad habit, but you’re scared the feeling won’t ever be replicated (and I’m a sad indie boy; hell have I been there oh man).

Barring that one aforementioned exception, I honestly find it difficult to express my love for this record. It hooks me in the same way “Girls”’ first effort “Album” hooked me, and continues to; it works almost flawlessly as a selection of songs and a wholly contained thing. It’s catchy, emotional, thoughtful, with evident influences but a sound that’s distinctively their own (like all good bands). I love this.

These guys aren’t exactly Soundcloud dwelling trolls so that’s immediate hipster cred out the window. But they’re firmly in the “twee” (for lack of a better word) niche that people frequently associate with hipsterdom. For that reason, on a scale of 1 being a “DJ-set/charity fundraser curated by Belle and Sebastian” and 10 being “openly weeping at a Sigur Ros gig”, this comes in at a solid “trying to dance to Mogwai”.

Words: Declan Cochran