Brooklyn three-piece Au Revoir Simone are a curious prospect. For starters, it’s not often you get to gaze at a stage boasting three ladies, three keyboards and little else. No guitars here, nor drum kits, cellos or trumpets.
The group consists of Erika Forster (vocals/keyboard), Annie Hart (vocals/keyboard) and Heather D’Angelo (vocals/keyboard/drum machine), so, you know – to paraphrase David Brent – different sounds for different needs.
Such homogenic instrumentation inevitably has a bearing on the band’s output and, as such, their standing within the musical spectrum, but for this, their third LP, that is no bad thing: at the very least, Still Life, Still Light is guaranteed to be consistent from beginning to end.
Pick a track, any track, and you’re virtually guaranteed a multi-layered, gossamer-thin synth track, delicately trisected between the band members, a tinny, almost parodied Casio drum loop, and a conservative smattering of subtly harmonious vocals, enunciating in long vowels short extracts of faintly regretful, poetic melodies.
Given this formula’s resemblance to Air‘s minor chord masterpiece for Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides – or perhaps a less adventurous Imogen Heap or less cheerful Petra Hayden – it is no surprise that Au Revoir Simone have soundtracked as many Chicago Hope scenes as Yann Tiersen‘s work has TV travel shows.
It is perhaps not so surprising, then, that there are no major departures from this scheme on Still Life, Still Night: it is an album that flows along as if a soundtrack to itself, the constituent tracks never jutting at right angles but rather reaching the same conclusion via a different equation. They’re the Carol Vordermans of synthpop.
There are, of course, highlights that remain once the disc has spun. Current single Shadows expertly juxtaposes gently pulsating notes with droning organ chords and honey-sweet voices. A dischordant step now and then tests the ear as if reminding the listener that three keyboards and three ladies don’t necessarily produce cabaret.
Knight Of Wands, too, is something of a treat, sounding like a track from a crypt rave. And here was me thinking a synth church organ given liberal analogue bends would never catch on. Of course, it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but either way, it’s fairly heady aural stimulation.
For the most part, Still Life, Still Light is an instrumental effort, each track’s component, synthetic parts gradually pooling into something altogether richer. Only You Can Make You Happy is the zenith, its carefully crafted SNES-like crescendo abruptly giving way to an ethereal choir and the heartfelt, repeated refrain.
There are minor frustrations, however: one cannot help but pine for amped up drums to crash in every now and then, for the measured indie movie score to allow a strumming guitar into its midst, or even for some soaring, organic strings to take over on occasion. But there’s always Arcade Fire for that type of thing. For Au Revoir Simone, it just wouldn’t be cricket.
Still Life, Still Light, despite its inability (or unwillingness) to change tack, remains an absolutely intriguing prospect. You can slice up its track-by-track constitution – a gently sung, interesting turn of phrase here, an evocative chord progression here – but it is a beautiful, haunting creature as a whole, and a poignant testament to the power of simplicity.