Au Revoir Borealis: Dark Enough For Stars
Utter East

After the Detroit-based collective Au Revoir Borealis released its well-received debut, Tienken, in 2000, it naturally planned to issue a follow-up. Though fifty tracks were recorded, production-related complications derailed the process, plus real-world distractions—travel, moves, marriages, deaths, etc.—intervened, complicating the process further. Eventually, the outfit regrouped, demos were again made and recording resumed too, with the group taking great pains to ensure the material would exemplify the requisite degree of balance, weight, and maturity. Now that Au Revoir Borealis's sophomore effort is finally upon us, what's the verdict? Straight up, it's a remarkable collection, one crafted with love and the utmost care and refreshingly free of irony; despite its protracted development, it also skillfully manages to avoid sounding laboured.

The title stems from a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson ( “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars”) and the theme permeates the album, the idea that with every winter there's summer, and that the darkest and bleakest moments invariably bring forth light and hope (naturally, the theme surfaces repeatedly in Stephanie McWalters' lyrics, with “They say if you can find the end of it / There's a gold key / Leading you up through the shadowlands–like a memory” from “The Key” one example of many). The band fuses the languor of L'altra and Mazzy Star with shoegaze expansiveness and intensity, and McWalters' vocals are as clear as a mountain spring, and remain so even when the band's attack escalates (when it does, incidentally, the music doesn't turn cacophonous but instead turns enveloping). The album's also full of haunting hooks, such as “The desert's not the best place in the world / But it'll do, it will do” (“Dark Western” ).

Highlights are many: the opening “The Winter Room” provides a well-modulated balance between the electric guitar swell (Steve Swartz apparently recorded sixteen tracks of guitar to achieve the immense sound) and the vocals; the dreamy “The World Is Too Much With Us” pairs softly rumbling drumming (the drums played with tympani mallets instead of sticks) and cymbal shadings with entrancing vocal harmonies by McWalters and Anna-Lynne Williams (of Trespassers William); and in the anthemic “Art of Film,” stabbing guitars and epic drumming wrap themselves around McWalters' yearning vocal. Balancing out the more epic songs are folk songs of restrained character, such as “Genius of Escape Who Will Startle & Amaze,” a haunting Houdini homage whose stripped-down acoustic arrangement complements the intimate feel. The group's melodic gifts come through in the song's chorus (“Under the water / Padlock and chain / Moving like a dream / Twisting to escape”) plus it serves as a showcase for McWalters' splendid vocalizing. Also strong is the reverent “Maps of The Sky” where the voices of McWalters and guest Gary Murray unite in a fragile whisper.

There are multiple instrumentals too, each special in its own way. In keeping with the title, “Bella Ballerina” is a pretty instrumental waltz of pastoral character which gains in intensity when Colette Alexander's cello apears. There's also “By The Stream,” a stirring interlude created from Currie's ambient guitar shudder (actually a part from another song slowed down and reversed) and Alexander's mournful cello, and “Stella, My Brightest Star,” an ethereal meditation where beautiful guitar atmospheres (Anderson Reinkordt's Epiphone Comet joins in) are enhanced by the sighing violins of Allison Minando and Rachel Allison and the angelic wordless vocalizing of McWalters and Jessica Bailiff. Mention must be made too of the elegiac “After The Snowstorm” (written in the wake of Currie's grandfather's death) whose arrangement for piano, cello, and violin provides a beautiful and fitting closer.

A release that can't be recommended too highly, Dark Enough for Stars suggests that perhaps all groups should release their albums eight years apart. It's a triumphant recording in more ways than one.

February 2009