erasing clouds

Auburn Lull, Begin Civil Twilight

reviewed by dave heaton

"Light Through the Canopy" is an appropriate title for the lead-off track to the third Auburn Lull album. That title evokes cinema, especially those moments where you see flickers of light through tree branches. Or forget about film – in real life, when you see the same, when rays of light frame your perspective. The six-word review of Begin Civil Twilight would be something about it being the musical equivalent of light flickering. The music ambles, drifts, and takes over your environment, shading it, making it beautiful and unusual.

Begin Civil Twilight is also the band's most fully developed album yet, capturing their shining traits more clearly than ever. Auburn Lull finds its best balance yet between song and sheer atmosphere, helped along by a handful of guests, including Lorraine Lelis of Mahogany and Ulrich Schnauss. And they've created more wonderfully strange moments than ever before. This music is exciting. You can't say that about your average zone-out dream-pop/ambient music.

Within Begin Civil Twilight's layers are loads of intriguing sounds and moods. There's a lot to sort through and figure out, though so far I prefer to sink into it. "Axis Nears" presents a wash of voices and sounds, but within there is a distinct guitar melody turning around and around. "Broken Heroes" is a lovely pop duet in the middle of a sonic mist. The drums and tempo could almost be from a dub reggae track, though it's the song before it that's titled "Dub 1". "Civil Twilight" works with sharper tones at first, but also drifts gently along, through arrays of texture and tone.

Within its sheets of sound, "Coasts" has a great pop song which I want to describe as "melancholy" but actually feels hopeful…the lyrics are something about someone calling them from far away, but I haven't caught them as well as I should, not because they're not clear but because I keep getting distracted by the gorgeous, shifting wallpaper. "Stanfield Echo" starts off cautiously, with patterns (notice also the interlocking patterns of the album art), played as a whisper. And it continues like that, leading not to a dramatic outburst, but a gradual rise, sounding prettier as it goes but no less patient. "Geneva" evokes NASA field recordings at its start, and when the instruments play they warp slightly. This is somehow all very visceral music, surprising considering how it also lifts us off into the clouds.

Formed in Lansing, Michigan in 1994, Auburn Lull was part of a larger community of Michiganders exploring the atmospheric outer regions of pop/rock's galaxies, including still-thriving groups like Windy & Carl and Mahogany. But to focus to much on where they've been, on the "scene" they could be lumped into, misses out on where Auburn Lull is now, and how vital this new album is. Their music has always been engaging, for its quietly adventurous nature and the surprising sounds they come up with. But Begin Civil Twilight launches them another level upward, into the hall of fame for groups playing this kind of music. It trips nobly through unexplored regions, but also works as everyday music, to live with and engage with, not just as a fantasy world to vacation off to every once in a while.


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