Every living second of the day someone feels an emotion strong enough to be shared via musical means. Every minute of that same day one of those people makes a crappy lovesick record – trite, hormonal, and vicariously embarrassing.
Au Revoir Simone’s Still Night, Still Light treads that line very precisely. Using elements that seem dated in both real years and blog years (thrift store synths, 3-part female harmony, etc.) the trio crafts a record that screams a juvenile charm. Most records with this appeal are much more under the radar about the whole affair, like Arcade Fire’s Funeral , for example, which left the teenage flavoring to triumphant instrumentation and brash attitude. Still Night, on the other hand, avoids subtlety with song titles like “Only You Can Make You Happy” and lyrics like “You know I’m a child / I keep this alive”.
Can you tell that I have a love/hate relationship with this record? I’m a fan of subtlety, especially when it creates layers in the experience, but this record is completely flat. But don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean “flat” in an entirely bad way.
The aforementioned Funeral is heralded as a 2004 classic (7 years ago, something like 30 years ago in blog terms). I remember listening to the record when it came out, thinking that there were a few good songs with a lot of great hooks, but it was only after another year or two of occasional listening that I was able to really understand and appreciate the “breaking out of decayed suburbia” aspect of the record as a whole. So when someone claims Funeral to be an “instant classic” (as they always do), I always beg to differ. As great as it is, no one can observe every aspect of that record “instantly”.
If there is such a thing as an “instant classic”, it would probably be something like Still Night, Still Light. Superficial, juvenile, and flat. Very flat. The record’s woozy synths and sing-song lyrics play like a speedball of schmaltz and nostalgia directly to the mainline. Likewise, the album art is an overt tribute to the classic Maurice Sendak children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, complete with muted color palette, bright moonlight, and mysterious forest.
The first sample track is a great example of these girls’ ability to create fantastic hooks with just 3 keyboards, a drum machine, and their voices. There’s a certain weak-in-the-knees feeling that I get as a music nerd when I hear the whine of an analog keyboard’s pitch shift dial, and this is a great use of it. In the realm of lyrics, I have no idea what the song is about, and every time I look up the lyrics, I forget them 5 minutes later – but that’s more or less the point of the song. Instantly gratifying without any added depth to worry about.
If you thought that last one was repetitive, you’re in for a surprise. The use of repetition carries an enormous likelihood of harboring intense hate/love. Some examples: “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen, “One More Time” by Daft Punk, and “What Is Love?” by Haddaway. (File these under “Songs I Hate But Will Listen To Anyway”.) ”Anywhere You Looked” isn’t quite at the level as those songs, but makes the same type of statement with its own mind-numbing melody. Everything in this recording, including amateurish vocals, low-fi drum loops, and throwaway lyrics, points to an aesthetic akin to the childlike joy of the album art.
Still Night, Still Light might just be an oxymoron, creating a record whose style is intentionally accidentally profound. The truth is, this album is closer to an “instant classic” than Funeral is, though that term doesn’t mean exactly what we always accept it to mean. Traditional classics take time to digest and settle; they echo in the minds of the cults they lead. Instant classics mimic only the successes and not the depth of their counterparts, and are much easier to come by. In this case, the success is that of nostalgia, hallmarked by the Sendak sendoff on the front cover. No characters and no plot, but plenty of aesthetic to send your emotions running.
Artist: Au Revoir Simone
Album: Still Night, Still Light
Tracklist & Review (Allmusic)