Auburn Lull – Begin Civil Twilight

Auburn Lull - Begin Civil Twilight

Auburn Lull - Begin Civil Twilight

Space rock. Shoegaze. Ambient. These genres have become congested sonic territory, and that is mostly a good thing. It’s easy music to make, and easy music to listen to, with immediate and comprehensible rewards. However, since these loosely connected genres tend to trade only in beautiful and ethereal sounds, mediocre results sometimes slip by the radar based solely on their agreeable sounds or atmospheres. But where do you turn when you want some musicality with your ethereal washes and trebly drones? Enter Auburn Lull.

Over the course of their 14-year existence, Lansing, Michigan’s Auburn Lull has staked a claim to a particularly chilly and relaxing synthesis of the aforementioned genres. Does their third full-length album have anything to offer above and beyond the average shoegazey space rock pleasantries? The answer is yes, and their most recent album Begin Civil Twilight is their best work yet.

Even as they maintain their essential pulsing and breezy soundscapes composed of meticulously produced airy and echoing textures, Begin Civil Twilight presents an improvement over Auburn Lull’s already impressive previous albums Alone I Admire (1999) and Cast From the Platform (2004) by pushing the dub and pop elements of their sound out into the open with confidence. It should be noted that these guys are a band, playing guitars, basses, drums, and keyboards to create songs, many which, with a little imagination, could be deconstructed into more or less conventional pop song structures. The timbres of their sounds come from the super-reverbed, ambient, neo-shoegaze playbook, but they avoid the overly placid and drifting tendencies of the majority of their peers by grounding most of their songs with lead guitar parts, loping bass figures, or hummable vocal lines.

“Light Through the Canopy” draws you in slowly, introducing elements one-by-one that play throughout the album: guitars like smoke ribbons, a dubby little bass figure that drops in from time to time, nearly indecipherable reverberating vocals, restrained drums, echoing chords providing dynamic accents, voice samples of old transmissions, twinkling lead riffs, and most of all, a playful rearrangement of elements that calls to mind moving around the pieces of a collage or working on a puzzle. The remainder of the songs on the album push these ideas further, usually into more traditional song forms (“Axis Nears”, “November’s Long Shadows” and “Coasts”), but sometimes into more droney and drifty territory. For instance, “Civil Twilight” wouldn’t sound out of place on one of labelmate Manual’s ambient albums. Although there are moments of intense beauty all over the album, they swell cerebrally rather than explode, and never follow the predictable post-rock mold of dynamic build and cathartic release.

Since the vocals are difficult to understand at best, it is difficult to tell if this album is about anything in particular, but I am left with impressions of air travel, either as a passenger in a commercial plane or simply gliding above it all powered by some other force. The song titles also suggest taking a perspective removed a great distance from the minutiae of the day-to-day earthly struggle, and the guitars over the chorus of “Broken Heroes” even sound like the flapping of a bird’s wings overhead.

While nobody would mistake this music for rock ‘n’ roll, and while some will mistake it for ambient, the music on Begin Civil Twilight really falls somewhere closer to something like ambient rock. This music won’t lead you to negative emotions and befits calm introspection that leaves the listener with a subtle feeling of energized cleanliness. You could say Auburn Lull has really raised the bar with this effort, but it would be more accurate to say they gracefully soared over the top of it.

Auburn Lull

Darla Records