AU – Both Lights

written by: April 12, 2012
Release Date: April 3rd, 2012


As bold moves go, AU’s opening track “Epic” is a doozy. From the first skittering drum blasts to the noodling guitar to the turbulent bass, the track coalesces into something astoundingly beautiful, a moving piece of psych-y art-pop. Luke Wyland, the singular mastermind of AU around which hordes of contributing members orbit, crafts an opener that unfolds like well-thought out anthemic pop music more joyous and spazzy than Coldplay, but unafraid of its own monstrosity. “Epic” is a microcosm for the idea of how an album should work in the macro.

It’s maddening, then, that Both Lights, AU’s fourth proper LP, dives too far into the flailing pop references, constantly vascillating between retrieving that gigantic pop ecstasy and wading through more experimental and plaintive moments. Why, just the next track down on the list from “Epic,” “Get Alive,” is a mass of almost Sufjan Stevens’ banjo plucking, trumpet blurps and woodwind work. It holds together reasonably well, but by the end there’s a terrifying sense that Wyland could lose hold of his tenuous and ambitious pop juggling act. One could technically draw a clear line of sight from Wyland down to Ed Droste, Avey Tare or Panda Bear, whose auteur sensibility has served them exceedingly well in their growth as pop artists. Both Lights, however, doesn’t belong in the stratosphere of Veckatimest or Strawberry Jam, saying nothing of Feels or Merriweather Post Pavilion.

But to discuss how much Wyland can resemble and somewhat successfully ape buzzier popsmiths would deny that his noodling results in some beautiful soundscapes. “Crazy Idol” is nothing if not a choral pop tune, but Wyland’s unique and pleasantly soulful croon lends the track an R&B vibe that can sometimes come off fake in the hands of his references. In better moments like “Solid Gold,” Wyland nearly pulls off a convincing John Legend impression. “Why I Must” goes gleefully nuts before descending into regrettable off-melody oddball screwiness, only to be curtailed by the languid and gorgeous “Go Slow,” which punctuates “Crazy Idol” style vocals with a pitter-patter of piano keys. This softer, gentler Wyland would be welcome as a closer to such an exhausting album were it not for the dirge-ridden disappointment that is the closer, “Don’t Lie Down.”

As taxing as Wyland and AU have become in terms of what seems to be a clear case of musical ADD, Both Lights is a surprisingly breezy album to listen to completely. Clocking in at around forty minutes, the record packs so much literate complexity into the running time that it’s pointless to try and sift a cogent narrative from it. Instead, the best course of action is to simply listen and appreciate. Ironically, what separates the “Brother Sport” soundalike “Solid Gold” from being as transcendent as its ancestor is the same thing that makes it almost more of an easy listen. AU, and Luke Wyland, do not require highbrow critical context to appreciate his experimental pop – instead, the pleasure and pain of Both Lights comes from accepting Wyland nonsensically complex mind and parsing out the best bits.

AU – Both Lights tracklist:

  1. “Epic”
  2. “Get Alive”
  3. “Crazy Idol”
  4. “OJ”
  5. “The Veil”
  6. “Solid Gold”
  7. “Today/Tonight”
  8. “Why I Must”
  9. “Go Slow”
  10. “Old Friend”
  11. “Don’t Lie Down”