Au Revoir Simone
Verses of Comfort, Assurance & Salvation
Self-Released / Moshi Moshi
2005
B-



the beat, such as it is, on Au Revoir Simone’s “Through the Backyards” hisses and thumps as if it's one of those automatic sprinklers left on at night to bring water to the parched lawns of suburbia. Eventually, a meditative electric piano melody picks up and is joined by some slight ambience, then coolly measured vocals. It all sounds a little diffident at first, but when the second voice starts sweetly talking we're reassured: “But I didn't leave you waiting / There was endless concentration.” It's one of those gnomic utterances that makes perfect emotional sense, if nothing else. If all you'd heard before this was Verses of Comfort, Assurance & Salvation's penultimate track “And Sleep Al Mar” (the one with the softly menacing atmosphere and muttered come-ons to a “teenaged Mexican boy”) you might think as I did that these three female keyboardists/vocalists from Brooklyn were going to give us nothing but delicious darkness for the too-brief span of their debut.

But right after that first track, the band launches into “Hurricanes” with a caffeinated beat and brightly plucked tones; by the time they get to the tripled “la la la”s it's clear we're dealing with something much closer to, say, Freezepop than you might have expected. If you don't credit the band with anything else, and you should, you have to at least respect their facility with a good wordless vocal refrain, which can add immeasurably to a song when used deftly. “The Disco Song” sounds like nothing less than a better-sung companion to the underrated keyboard tracks from Hefner's late works (“Dark Hearted Discos,” in particular), but leaves you a little unprepared for the combination of the gently upbeat music and the selflessly maudlin lyrics of “Where You Go”’s first half, the album's only real mis-step. Luckily the second half is much better, but with only eight songs and less than 28 minutes there's not much room for error.

So you've got a core of sweet pop coated in a pleasingly melancholy shell. Both sides of Au Revoir Simone's music are well done, to the extent that I'm sure my conviction that they should focus on their softer, sadder side is strictly a matter of personal taste. The album could, however, use better pacing so that “Hurricanes” doesn't seem so startling and so that “And Sleep Al Mar,” the darkly ravishing standout here, doesn't come hard on the heels of something that seems twinkly and insubstantial in comparison.

For a new band it's much more important to get the songs right than the album, however much our collective bias for flawless debuts ignores that fact. Au Revoir Simone have produced six excellent songs, and two good ones; that they have them in slightly puzzling order and might want to focus on establishing a more coherent mood next time is no serious foul. If they can build on the potential of Verses of Comfort, Assurance & Salvation, all the other keyboard slingers out there are going to have to start watching their backs.


Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2006-06-13
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