Au4: …And Down Goes the Sky

Released: 2013

Personnel

  • Ben Wylie: Vocals; keyboards; guitars; sequencing
  • Aaron Wylie: Vocals; keyboards; programming
  • Jason Nickel: Bass; vocals
  • Nathan Wylie: Drums; percussion

Contributors:

  • Melanie Krueger: Vocals
  • Anna Vandas: Vocals
  • Daniel Moir: Electric guitar
  • Niki Piper: Violin
  • Clara Shandler: Cello
  • Malcolm Aiken: Trumpet

Tracklist:

  1. Everyone is Everyone (and Everything is Everything)
  2. Lost Her Way Home
  3. The Propagation of Light (Through the Ether of Emotion)
  4. So Just Hang On, Beautiful One
  5. In Three Seconds I’ll Be Gone
  6. Forever Dancing Under a Fallen Sky
  7. Wherever We Begin to Fall (Broken Glass Will Surely Follow)
  8. The Empty Gorgeousness of All
  9. Planck Length
  10. Over the Edge It Goes

The great thing about social media is the sheer amount of music that can be found, via recommendations and links from friends, from various genre-based Facebook groups…Youtube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp…there is more great music out there than I will ever get to hear if I live to be a hundred. The disadvantage of social media is, well, the sheer amount of music… yeah.  I could spend my entire day online just clicking links.  It is both exciting and daunting at the same time. I simply have to bypass most of the stuff that people share: no time, no ability to focus on it, whatever.  I know I have missed a lot.

But eventually there comes some time to poke around, to sample the links that folks seem to be most excited about.  On one day I decided to try out a video shared by a few of my friends who were so enthusiastic they were almost incoherent. The band had a strange name seemingly taken from the Periodic Table, and the album cover was a rather beautiful bit of art.

This, the very first track I heard — which I believe is the last track on this album — stopped me dead in my tracks.  I could not quite fathom what I was hearing.  All I knew was that I had to hear more of the album, and when I did I had to hear it again.  And the more I played it, the more I had to play it.  It dug in deeply and insistently and relentlessly, like some musical version of Cordyceps, and zombie-like I was compelled to play the thing. Over and over.  This does not happen very often, and usually if it does, the album does not last for very long.  It gets overplayed and then set aside.  But so far there seems no evidence that I can overplay …And Down Goes the Sky.  This album seems to have found a special niche in my soul.

Au4 (pronounced, as their press releases and bio take great pains to point out, “oh – four”) is a collective out of Vancouver BC, formed in 2004 and consisting of three brothers and a schoolmate, plus guests.  The “Au” means “to the, at the, or with” and the 4 represents symbolism around life, death, and reality.  They have one previous album called On: Audio which comes across as much more conventional but does contain hints of the direction they will take.  The lyric storylines incorporate sweeping ideas of existence, identity, and existentialism, couched in philosophy, science, and even science fiction…at any rate, there is no doubting the ambitiousness of the enterprise.  While some of the ideas are certainly grandiose (one hesitates to say pretentious, but there you go…) the music is something else again.

And what music it is!  The core is built on a dense and textural foundation of synths and electronics, but otherwise this is genre-busting stuff.  Prog rock, post-rock, dream pop, trip hop, ambient, industrial, electronica, shoegaze…and the list goes on, all rolled into one glorious package. Not only are the songs ridiculously diverse but each individual track shifts between styles and sounds, ethereal female vocals one moment and astonishing, thick wall-of-sound electronica the next.  The tracks branch and grow, the sounds and instruments expertly and intimately entwined, organic and absolutely immersive.  And melody is honoured – this album is monstrously melodic from the first sweeping synthesizer note to the last electronic blip.

It is hard to point to outstanding songs, because my opinions about that seem to change daily.  The tracks are ambitious and sophisticated, and diverse enough that they provide something for every mood.  There really is no weak song on the album.  However: standouts include the first track, “Everyone is Everyone (and Everything is Everything)” which starts with smooth orchestral delicacy…and then simply pummels one with massive guitar chords, shouted trip-hoppy vocals, and trumpets, before winding up in sedate innocence.  And this is how the whole album works…where an almost conventional folky waltz with delicate vocals merges seamlessly with intense industrial electronica or jazz-inflected dream pop or wall-of-sound synthesizers…and it all makes perfect sense.

The last track bears special mention as well, and not only because it was the first thing I heard.  At over 14 minutes long, “Over the Edge It Goes” might be regarded as the “prog epic” of the album.  It begins as an apparently straightforward song with a nice bass line beneath drums, keyboards, and a soft male vocal, but don’t be deceived…this track turns into a monster complete with massive guitar solo in the middle. And then somehow it transforms into pure ambient electronica for the last half of the piece.  And this too makes sense.

Au4 have made both their albums available for free download and sharing on their website. Of course they do encourage purchase, and a physical cd is available as well.  Or you can donate towards their next album.  Or all of the above.  Anything to keep these guys going.  I haven’t heard music that has hooked me like this since…well, probably the day almost four years ago I heard my first song from a certain Polish outfit.

Speaking of which…2015 is turning out to be a banner year for new music, and apparently this includes material that was released earlier but that I have just discovered now.  For the sake of some very fine and currently beloved albums that have come out this year, it is a good thing this one is a couple of years old.  Because at the moment …And Down Comes the Sky is kicking the ass of everything I have heard so far this year.  And I do mean everything. How long this will last is uncertain, but there is something downright rapturous in discovering music that “fits” so well into one’s being. I will wax euphoric and revel in it as long as it allows me to.

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