Songs from the Year of Our Demise
ongs from the Year of Our Demise is a document of a tumultuous period in Jon Auer's life that included a divorce and the beginning of another marriage. However, it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly what year the title refers to, considering how long it’s been in the works. The title has been floating around since 1999, shortly after Auer's group The Posies broke up and he and co-founder Ken Stringfellow embarked on solo careers. In the time that it's taken Auer to finish his first solo album, Stringfellow released three, and the Posies reunited and recorded a new record, last year's Every Kind of Light. Also during that period, Auer contributed to Big Star's In Space and, oddly enough, William Shatner's Has Been. So Songs from the Year of Our Demise has a lot riding on it, if only to justify its lengthy gestation period and repeated delays.
Auer has always seemed blessed with natural, almost effortless gifts as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. His voice is so clean and angelic that it sometimes sounds feminine, and as the more instrumentally skilled half of the Posies' nucleus, he handled most of the guitar solos, and even played drums on the band's early material. So after several albums as only 50% of a creative team, the chance for him to step out on his own seems like the perfect opportunity to thrive. But while Demise is a deeply personal work that shows the fruits of several years of recording, it's far from Auer's greatest achievement.
Now in his late 30's, Auer's voice is still in top form, but has taken on a deeper, slightly gravelly tone, which suits the depressive tone of the material. His gift for writing big power-pop hooks is similarly subdued, as he sticks to slower tempos and quieter arrangements. In short, it's his singer-songwriter record.
But without the hooks, energy, or jaw-dropping guitar solos, an air of blandness hangs over Demise that only a handful of songs cut through. And for better or worse, most of those songs are buried at the end of the disc. "Sundown" practically erupts with a thudding bassline, poignant melody, and naggingly catchy "sha la la la" chorus. And "Wicked World" is one of only a couple songs where Auer strips the arrangement down to just his voice and an acoustic guitar to showcase a hauntingly gorgeous melody. Meanwhile, most tracks, like the dramatic opener "Six Feet Under," contribute to the overall mood of the album, but hardly stand up as songs by themselves.
Auer wrote and discarded many songs in the process of making Demise, releasing several EPs along the way. Ironically, few songs on the album have hooks as memorable as "When the Lights Go Up" or "Beautiful" from 2002's Private Sides. Luckily, the best song from 2000's The Perfect Size, "You Used to Drive Me Around," is reprised in re-recorded form on Demise. Now fleshed out to an epic seven minutes, with ornate touches like David Einmo's chorus mellotron, and live drums replacing the early version's plodding drum machine, "You Used to Drive Me Around" becomes the album's hardest rocking song, though it never rises above a brooding mid-tempo.
Songs from the Year of Our Demise initially seems underwhelming, but like the Posies' best work, its songs reveal themselves over time. Still, it's an album that has far more potential for emotional resonance than musical discovery. The arrangements contain few surprises, and the handful of simple acoustic performances quietly outshine the more elaborate productions. There's no doubt that Auer put a lot of feeling into Demise, but if he takes this long to formulate his next album, hopefully he'll spend more time honing his musical ingenuity, and throw a few of his fantastic guitar solos in as well.