Verses of Comfort, Assurance & Salvation, the Casio-bright 2005 debut from Brooklyn synth-pop trio Au Revoir Simone, was a decadent cake of a record: irresistibly sweet to some palates, toothache-inducing to others. With each release, though, the band extracted some sugar from the recipe. Placing more emphasis on mood than chirpy melody, their latest and strongest record, 2009′s Still Light, Still Night felt more Stereolab than Mates of State. The trio have been taking it easy since Annie Hart had a baby in 2010, leading to this five-song debut EP from ARS’s Erika Spring, which feels like the next footstep in their mood-leaning trajectory. It’s not that much of a change in sound from Spring’s other band, but it’s the first Au Revoir Simone-related material you might recommend to a friend who doesn’t share your sweet tooth.
Spring has an understated wisp of a voice, but these songs achieve a difficult balance that puts them a cut above the generic dream-pop crop– they’re soft and hazy but never vague, probably because Spring envisioned the EP with percussion in mind. She cites the tom-heavy sound of early-1980s Phil Collins as the collection’s formative influence (“I was obsessing over the Phil Collins song ‘I Don’t Care Anymore’,” she said in a recent interview), and the glassy, reverb-free percussion of Jorge Elbrecht from the shoegaze-y Violens brings that vision to life. His grooves are steady and restrained (any impulses towards some “In the Air Tonight”-style scene-stealing are kept in check) but as a counterpoint to Spring’s breathy vocals, they keep the songs from dissolving. The results are hypnotic, from the Broadcast-like reverie of “Hidden” to the looping and seductive “Happy at Your Gate”. “Hey, the gate is unlocked,” she insists until it sounds like a come-on, “No, you don’t have to turn away.”
The EP’s weakest link is another nod to 80s pop: a cover of Eurythmics‘ “When Tomorrow Comes”. Spring does make the source material her own, transforming the bombastic pop of the original into a sleepy, feather-light tune, but it feels maudlin (the tipping point comes in the form of pre-chorus wind chimes) in comparison with the rest of the EP’s glassy cool. Still, there’s something refreshing about how it errs on the side of earnestness. Spring gets points for reappropriating 80s synth pop and Kaputt-style soft rock in a context that’s utterly devoid of ironic scare quotes, which is why this collection of sophisticated songs feels like an important notch in her growth as a songwriter. There’s more depth to Spring’s 80s influence than there used to be (Au Revoir Simone was, after all, named for a line from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure), Erika Spring displays a genuine interest in replicating the texture and aesthetic of the music she grew up with. The elements of pastiche are woven smoothly into her sound, which dances gracefully on the edges of past and present, of waking life and dreams.
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