This duo is at its best when being earthily monumental, with an emphasis on the mental.
Martin Longley 2012
This duo from Portland, Oregon, sound rather European considering that they’re Americans. Also, for a twosome, they sound very much like an orchestra. This third album is AU’s first for the always-adventurous Leaf Label. It’s a tight 40 minutes of compacted, runaway virtuosity. That virtuosity applies to both the physical performance and the highly active arranging skills. Everything’s so compacted and hyperactive that principal songwriter Luke Wyland and drummer Dana Valatka are balancing frighteningly on the precipice between genius and madness.
The appropriately-titled opener Epic presents hurtling drumbeats and harmonically-entangled guitar spirals, leading towards an invigorating bagpipe tonality, before jacking into a parping synth-fanfare. At least they sound like massed guitars, but they may well be skewed banjo or lap steel. This is pomp with edge. There are strong traces of unmentionable and unfashionable bands in AU’s stylistic panoply.
Get Alive has a Michael Nyman strut, diced with 1980s gothic/new romantic vocal melodrama – proof that AU are looking backwards to jolt forward. All is grandiose. They pause for calm with Crazy Idol, music box and birdsong leading into misty vocals, chiming repeats and a choral accumulation. Staccato robo-pop meets systems music harshness on OJ. The Veil offers a break for some charging bass-piano, kicking into clashing electro, finishing up with Indonesian/Korean-flavoured metallic clattering. Solid Gold opens gently, then develops an urgent tumble that’s reminiscent of Conlon Nancarrow’s works for player piano. Colin Stetson makes a guesting baritone saxophone appearance.
AU’s most out-there piece, Today/Tonight, sneaks in for less than a minute and a half; then the blunderbuss distorto-electronics return, as Why I Must takes Mott the Hoople’s All the Way From Memphis rumble all the way to the asylum. This extraordinary pairing is at its best when being earthily monumental, with an emphasis on the mental.