October 24, 2004

Auburn Lull "Cast From The Platform"

The artwork of Michigan quartet Auburn Lull’s sophomore album Cast from the Platform consists of blurry but nonetheless strategically positioned photographs of nature scenes and architectural designs (bridges, satellites, windmills). Many of the song titles (“Jersey Narrows,” “Trenches,” “Direction and Destination”) allude to geography. After releasing their wonderful debut Alone I Admire in 1998, the band waited nearly five years to begin recording a follow-up…at a studio called the Simultaneous Workshop, no less! Take all of these facts into consideration, and you can conclude before even listening to Cast from the Platform that the members of Auburn Lull take their time crafting songs, putting careful consideration into every note, word and beat. The actual music on the CD underscores this conclusion by sounding just as hazy and deliberate as its artwork would imply.

Even from the beginning, Auburn Lull were even more reliant on pure atmosphere than their dreampop/shoegaze ancestors. The songs on Cast from the Platform sound as if they’re being recorded from the bottom of a well, with reverb serving almost as a fifth member of the band. The reverb is so thick that even when singer Sean Heenan’s breathy tenor is in the front of the mix, the lyrics remain mostly indecipherable. In a peculiar sonic role reversal, the guitars are completely stripped of their attack so that they sound almost like keyboards, and the keyboards are often percussive enough to resemble guitars. Bassist Jason Kolb keeps his presence subtle, almost to the point of being subliminal. Some of the songs don’t even have a discernible bass line. Every instrument is light and airy when heard individually, but when put together they form a dense and foggy web of sound.

Where Cast from the Platform differentiates itself from its predecessor is in the band’s occasional employment of minimalism. A number of this album’s songs use space and silence to great effect, suggesting what dub versions of long-lost Slowdive songs would sound like. On the appropriately named “Season of False Starts,” Jason Wiesinger’s brushed drums are rendered unbearably heavy by an even thicker cloud of reverb than usual, as well as the constant stops and starts in his own playing. Heenan’s voice shares center stage with the drums, while the other instruments play just enough to outline the barest sketch of a chord progression. None of the musicians play an actual chord until the last minute of the song, but by then most listeners will have already filled the blanks of the song in their heads. “Direction and Destination” begins with waves of guitar that slowly rise, ebb and disappear. Halfway through the song, Wiesinger starts playing at twice the speed of the rest of the band, unleashing a series of jazzy, machine-gun drum fills. Despite the aggression and virtuosity of his playing, the drums still sound light as feathers in the context of the rest of the song.

Most of the album’s songs, though, continue the expansive layering that Auburn Lull perfected on Alone I Admire. “Jersey Narrows” begins with a scratchy drum loop and faraway keyboard drones. Heenan’s voice is slowly run through an ever-increasing amount of delay. As this happens, the drum programming gets exponentially intricate, the guitars start getting louder and higher and the bowed celli of producer/guest musician Andrew Prinz (who, by the way, runs the Simultaneous Workshop and is a member of the equally brilliant outfit Mahogany) starts ricocheting from speaker to speaker. The song ends in a much more intense state than it began in. “Deterior” does the same trick almost in reverse: first it builds up a mass of guitars and keyboards, then it lets splashy drumming and lush vocal harmonies provide the big finish. Even on the comparatively conventional album closer “Shallow in Youth,” on which the band sounds like they’re playing in a gymnasium instead of a well, they make room for a brief outburst of hissing cymbals and white noise before saying goodbye.

It took a while for Auburn Lull to return, but it was well worth the wait --- every second of Cast from the Platform is a pleasure to listen to, a soothing soundtrack for sweet slumber. Once content to be compared to great dreampop bands from 10 to 20 years ago, Auburn Lull has now become the kind of band that can influence its own generation of neophytes. I would definitely be willing to wait another six years for a third album that will be as much of an improvement on Platform as Platform is on the band’s debut. Keep up the good work, guys!

---Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.auburnlull.com
Label Website: http://www.darla.com

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