I have a problem. Let me explain.

Au Revoir Simone’s “Shadows” presented by David Lynch Foundation Television

Au Revoir Simone have released the debut music video, “Shadows,” from their forthcoming album, “Still Night, Still Light.” Yet again, the music is warm and wonderful, with clever, deceptively-simple ostinatos and earnest melodies delivered in wispy vocals. But the release also suggests the new album is going to be more of what we got in the last albums – pleasant and dreamy, but absent, ironically, any hint of “shadows.” The music video comes again from Vikram Gandhi and Brendan Colthurst of Disposable, a firm with expertise in indie-tilted but finely-crafted and always-safe music videos. Their previous outing on “Sad Song”, featuring un-ironic, sweet footage of the trio baking cookies, seemed to capture the blissfully good intentions of the talented Brooklyn outfit. Here, though, the video seems to fixate on its crushes, alternately on the ladies, their vintage synths (just one more effects shot over the top of the JUNO-60), or both. It’s product placement for hardware that isn’t made any more.

I begin to wonder if all of this is moving us, the music fans and critics, into dangerous territory, tangled in indie cred and inescapable nostalgia. I expect some of you wonder why, years into an avalanche of releases with whisper-thin vocals of [boy/girl] atop vintage [square wave synth] and [lo-fi beat box] it would take me until now to come to this conclusion. I love Ms. John Soda and Lali Puna and the many other bands whose stripped-down style is close to Au Revoir Simone’s, but it seems by definition the sort of music that doesn’t need description or explanation or analysis. Yet, oddly, we have even more publicity for a band that seems not to need it.

After all, for a Brooklyn band that makes lovely, earnest tunes, do you really need to know that it has an endorsement from David Lynch? Lynch is a talented visionary, but does that mean you need his musical advice – and isn’t there a danger that it’s not longing for his insight but yet more 80s nostalgia, for headier times with landmark art, here for Elephant Man (1980) and Blue Velvet (1986) in place of a Roland JUNO-60 (1982).

This is not a critique of Au Revoir Simone, or their lovely music. It’s meant as a critique of us, in 2009 – of me. I expect this trio has found their identity and musical voice honestly. It seems not to be changing – that’s fine; change for change’s sake is never an appropriate answer for an artist. But their output it just one place on the musical spectrum, and it’s a place with which I fear the rest of us have become overly fixated.

It’s possible to become crippled by nostalgia and romanticized ideas of what constitutes authenticity. There are times for synth-art-folk. But there are times when we need to find music that’s dangerous, uncomfortable, radical, and not in any way like a batch of warm cookies, to find men and women who are recluse and don’t have any endorsement from anyone.

Therein lies my problem. I know that this is in part the responsibility of those of us in the press. As writers about technology music – in that order – part of what we can do is to highlight things that are genuinely new. New technology does not necessarily mean new music, but the presence of radical tools can be connected to radical artists. I think we risk becoming, instead, caught up in gear lust, in artist lust, and hero worship.

To everything, indeed, there is a season. So I put it to you that it’s perfectly appropriate to admire the new work from Au Revoir Simone – but also that we need to talk about the opposite end of the spectrum. And as I always do, I ask you for your help: who should we cover? What artists would merit the time of outlets covering technology and new music, so that we talk not only about the lovely gadgets and lovely tunes?

My problem is, I often don’t have the perspective to track the output of music in the age of global abundance, while also troubleshooting driver issues, programming, and making my own humble attempt to be an artist myself. I can never be a perfect critic, because of the dangers inherent in being artist and critic simultaneously. But I am nonetheless a lover of danger and the new. I hope that our abundant, globally-connected community can find a way to tell the story of that music. I expect a lot of it is outside of Brooklyn – love that borough as I do. I hope we can find more work there, the stuff that truly lives in the shadows.

Side note, in the interests of explanation: Aaron asks in comments, isn’t it unfair to single out a band? Indeed, yes – it is profoundly unfair to single out this band, as Au Revoir Simone is neither the cause nor symptom of anything. But a blog is, by definition, a medium in which you try to find deeper meaning in the day-to-day news item. It’s trying to make cosmological sense of your inbox. The problem I have here is that posting Au Revoir Simone’s new video is entirely appropriate. But their promotion is, at the moment, focused on David Lynch’s endorsement, and the video on their instruments. So the dilemma is, I either post such things without question, or I ask a larger question we should be asking of everything – that I’m obligated to ask myself regarding my own artistic output (a test I myself will often fail, by my own standards).

And I say this is a “problem” not specifically because of one band, but for every band that we’re not covering. Is that all there is? If my inbox isn’t making much sense (and, perhaps yours), how can we get something different in there?

  • aaron m

    While I agree with some of your sentiment (retro heavy rereredone styles (read: unoriginal) and analog gear lust is some of the most obnoxious things in modern indie/rock and mainstream music) .. I dont think it's fair at all to single it out by using a single band as the vehicle for making your point. You name one band, but nearly every stylized image "indie" (cough) band out there that people eat up are doing the exact same thing. You would be very hard pressed to find anything that isn't obvious throw back and reference heavy.

    The statement that here is another band that doesn't need the promotion is a bit nuts too.. it's poor jab. Besides the fact that I've never once heard of this group, what band does not continuously, always, forever, need good promotion? That's the name of the game. Other than making a possibly (poorly) veiled attempt at an attack on the gals, I can't really see any other value to the comment.

  • http://seamsmusic.com James Welch

    Shameless Plug:

    Here's some music that doesn't need fancy tech, or gear lust.

    http://www.seamsmusic.com

    :)

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Aaron: I've added an addendum, just so my intentions are not misconstrued. I agree: it'd be profoundly unfair to attack one band or make them the poster child for the argument. But that's not at all my point. I love their music; I think it's fantastic. I also think it's possible to lose sight of what's special about it with all of these secondary issues, with endorsements from David Lynch and musical reporting (including myself in that critique) that fails to cover the spectrum of musical output. I think it does them a disservice. So, as I say – the critique is of me, not them.

  • Thomas Cermak

    Totally agree – boring. Having worked with electronic music for over 14 years or so I have grown weary of the hipster generation's adoption of tech and their fondness for bland indie synth melodies. Mind you, there is a lot of dynamic stuff with exceptional vocal styles reminiscent of some eighties' pop/cult stars. You are right on the money about the Lynch video – as if the Rentals hadn't thrown unabashed synth gear lust in our face, albeit with far better pop sound, back in the 90s.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Aaron: actually, additional side note – there's something happening in the music, so if you haven't heard of it, then that actually demonstrates why we need to do more coverage of artists on this site. So that's really good, encouraging news. If Au Revoir Simone count as a cookie course, we just have to work out the main, the salad, the hors d'oeuvres, and the wine. I think one concern was that any time you do this – particularly when the site has this HUGE other focus, its main focus, the use of technology – you run into the issue of taste. But reflecting on this particular story, part of what bothers me wasn't that there was anything wrong with Au Revoir Simone, but that – as Thomas says – we should actually be posting SOME stuff that SOME people hate. I don't even necessarily mean seeking out exclusively avant-garde work. But any attempt to make everyone agree would result in editorial blandness. That's not to say even the music is bland – but having only one flavor as the thing you present is.

  • http://www.cornwarning.com chaircrusher

    First off "forthcoming" — I bought this months ago as a digital download from Amiestreet.com.

    I kind of don't know what your point is, exactly, except ugly guys playing softsynths on their macbooks don't have the visual appeal of 3 long haired girls with Nords and Junos channelling 60s Yé-yé girls. Life isn't fair that way. And every generation to some extent retreads the music of their youth.

    By way of contrast, I saw Suit & Tie Guy play an engrossing, fully improvised set with a modular he built himself — along with a Roland CR8000, TR909, Juno6 and Eventide H3000. S&TG is many things, but a willowy 20-something girl he is not.

    Does it make him more artistically valid than Au Revoir Simone? I don't think so, but I don't begrugde ARS for capitalizing on their visual appeal.

    If you want something more cutting edge, get into Cooly G, but hey she doesn't hesitate to use her appearance as an element of her promotional identity either.

  • Michael Coelho

    @Peter I wouldn't mind a little more coverage of artists. I never heard of Au Revoir Simone before and enjoyed the videos. The music might be a little light, but it grew on me as I listened to it on their web site. The nostalgia factor in EM in general surprises me. All this lusting after old gear seems contrary to the nature of EM.

  • http://joewall.com Joe Wall

    I'm a little annoyed that the old "electrical tape over the back splash logos" tradition has been completely replaced by this hyper-enhanced contrasty logo explosion intended to demonstrate presumed funky street cred. I couldn't look away from "nord electro" and "Roland Juno" the whole damn time, which is sad, because you could easily hide the advertising and still have the instruments' inherent squonkiness right there.

    What's saddest is that the Juno is capable of some really sweet, subtle, amazing sounds, but all people know or care to do with it is the same old simulation of the same old technostalgia that was the same old revision of earlier sounds even back then. I've got a Juno-6 (the non-programmable one) and love it, but I hate to take it out live because it's just this big glamorous "retro" thing that takes over the whole stage scene.

    There's so much amazing, extraordinary instrumentation out there, both in hardware and software, and yet it seems like most people are less creative and less interested in sonic exploration than ever.

    Sigh.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Joe: Interesting point. In fairness, when these instruments were new, they were dominated by their presets. And all these companies continue to use presets as a selling point. So maybe we need master classes on vintage instrument programming.

  • http://dancerobotdance.com Brian

    I guess I'd be relieved to see something like this over another video of a skinny guy with a Monome and Max/MSP, or some "experimental" sequencer built out of marshmallows. So +1 for not really understanding your point. Yeah, it's a Juno. There's also a Nord. That's not old. And is that guitar a 2000's guitar or is it "retro?"

    I guess I don't think in terms of that. Who gives a flying monkey if the Juno was made in 1982? Does it work? Does it sound good? We're supposed to criticize Au Revoir Simone for making a 1982 synth sound like 1982? Do we do the same with guys with old saxophones? And we praise dudes who uses 808s for the same reason? The David Lynch connection is odd, but worth complaining about, or looking for a conspiracy within? Nah. I read the other day that Depeche Mode, or was it Nine Inch Nails, has a "Musical Director" that isn't a member of the band. A musical band, full of musicians, hires a Musical Director? That's in need of a rant.

    As far as covering musicians, I have Disquiet and Last FM and a few other places for that. Tell me about something new, Peter.

  • Jon

    I'd just like to say that I really enjoyed this introspective, wandering review. I felt the music was covered well – "I like it but it's unsatisfying" would be my take – and the real point was even better.

    What would I like to see covered? I'd like to see reviews or commentary or interviews with people who are doing things with music technology that

    (a) have not been possible before, or

    (b) no one thought to try before, or

    (c) require (or choose) real-time talent.

    Any or all of those conditions should be satisfied, preferably, by music that is also listenable. It doesn't have to be my style, but I'm not down with the "basic science" version of music. I want something that at least of few of us could honestly admit to enjoying on a visceral, emotional, or *profoudly* intellectual level. (Ligeti's "Harmonies" is one of my favorite pieces because the intellectual concept and execution really work, musically and emotionally, for me.)

    So yes. Stick to music technology, or technological music… whatever you want to call it. I don't think you're in any need of a reminder, but here it is anyway: techne.

  • C'mon

    I am by no means a sexist…

    but what is up with this generation of women singers not being able to write any lyrics that aren't painfully literal?

    to be fair there's lots of shit on the male side too, but still, you can count the good female lyricists of the last decade on one hand…

    maybe even excluding the thumb.

  • Stephan

    I'm always checking out CDM. I dug the ARS review, and while I can see where the critique was going, personally, I enjoy their music for what it is.

    Maybe more importantly, I downloaded the SEAMS album. That's what I like about the web, the amazing and often unexpected exposure to new and wonderful things.

  • Bynar

    As I read this article I see this shiny white 2009 era AxiomPro on the side of the screen. At least the old Juno's had some sound to back the hype!

  • Michael Pearson

    Needs more cowbelldirt.

    And if you've got a Juno up there, why not use a real Rhodes while you're at it?

  • aaron m

    the "presented by David Lynch Foundation Television" does kind of surprise me.. i can't help but think i would expect alot more from a foundation with that namesake..

  • http://www.squarelectric.com Steve Pittoors

    I guess by now there is something familiar about those vintage synths that will get you instant recognition just because of we all growing up to the sound. Commercial success will almost always gravitate towards familiar things. What better to have 3 girls playing the boyz toyz. I think the David Lynch Foundation people still have a business to run. It may very well be non-profit but people still have to eat, and make a living. Selling Transcendental Meditation techniques?

  • mimou

    C'mon, there always was and always will be "dangerous, uncomfortable, radical" music, but it's usually the one you have to look for, not the one we're haunted by in the mainstream media.

    One example of something i read recently, interview with the guys behind the remarkable ‘Deepchord presents : Echospace' album. Excellent read about music, the album and love for the vintage analog gear.
    http://www.textura.org/reviews/tenquestions_deepc
    It's one of those things I'd be happy to find on cdm :)

  • http://www.squarelectric.com Steve Pittoors

    Come to think of it, it must be the other way around: it's Au Revoir Simone’s endorsing or promoting the David Lynch Foundation.

  • MERD

    they were yesterday in town and I missed it… :P

  • http://relivethefuture.com/choronzon/tutorials/ Martin

    here's some main course

    http://www.myspace.com/noist

  • http://relivethefuture.com/choronzon/tutorials/ Martin

    whats that? still hungry?

    http://www.myspace.com/ganglia

  • dyscode

    ahm, sorry Peter, but I really don´t get what your article is about, honestly.

    From the comments I gather that you think that gear spotting/luating wins over the music experience, or something.

    I can follow Joe Wall at least, thinking that most musician just use EM as kind of multi-tone Piano, leaving most of the really exciting sonic adventures behind them as roadkill, smashed by the big Preset-Truck and that Chromatic Note-Scale Trailer.

    Am I missing something else here?

    best

  • dyscode

    spotting/lusting

  • rhowaldt

    what does it all matter, really? just listen to the music and stop thinking. it never got anybody anywhere.

  • jkant

    I miss the point, too.

    Ok, they are nice, they have some cool gear… but the music? I know 1000 (really INDIE!) better bands on myspace or soundcloud, i mean about song writing, sound quality and vocal skills… ah uh maybe they aren't so nice… :)

  • Paul

    perhaps artists could send in a song a week and said song could be put up on this site with a critique or maybe nothing at all just let a piece stand by itself every thursday or friday and see what people have to say about it i personally think if you were up for it that would be a wonderful addition to your blog because (to get an easier answer) how many people that read this blog DON'T make music or sounds or little electronic waffers

    i suppose that would leave you flooded with emails and links though…so maybe once a month or bi weekly send in submissions by X date then you would have to go through them and make notes of what you like

    lets put our noise makers where our heads are at and make some really weird music and for some inspiration in this direction listen to the cool night sounds of john cage on silence
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcHnL7aS64Y&fe

  • Michael Coelho

    Regarding the prominent display of equipment logos, while the readers of this blog my pay attention to such details, the vast majority of fans won't know a Moog from a Nord, nor will they care.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, I'll leave it at what I've said as far as the original point. But this story does seem to have had two effects:

    1. For some people, deflecting the superficial questions has allowed them to really quite enjoy Au Revoir Simone for their music.

    2. I think I have stirred the pot a bit on how CDM might cover artists.

    And those are both good things, whether or not you even follow the original line of thinking. I'm happy to be bombarded with feedback; that's how the site has always operated.

  • http://nostromo.noisepages.com Marc Nostromo

    I wanted to read your article but the music made me fall asleep and I'll have to work extra hours now to make up :(

  • http://fakebook.resonancemultimedia.com Johnny

    Personally, I think they are a bit overrated. I think my friend's video blows this away:

    http://fakebook.resonancemultimedia.com/2009/09/0

  • Joshua Bogart

    I bought this record a while ago. I love it….whiney whiney whiney, i'm too cool, let me bash some indie bands….go write for pitchfork.

  • quantize

    the moment the word 'earnest' appears anywhere I begin to gag like being force fed brusell sprouts.

    The planet is being overun by fey earnest music infested with the twinkle of toy pianos, xylophones, wafty vocals and twee synthesizers.

    Earnest is not an emotion.

  • Joshua Bogart

    That came off a bit rude….but the stuff is minimally delicious.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Actually, I talked about some of the things I liked about Au Revoir Simone. My concern was that attention can fixate on a band like ARS to the exclusion of other music, for the wrong reasons.

    Part of the reason it's easy enough to avoid talking about artists is that you will, without question, create controversy, because no one likes the same things. The cold world of technology, for all the occasional fanboy wars, is relatively uncontroversial and objective.

    But then, this discussion is a reminder that we should just… go there. We have a luxury that Pitchfork doesn't have, which is the ability to talk from the perspective of artists and talk process and, yes, talk gear, because we all share the experience of making music. That's usually more interesting than a one-dimensional numerical review and an endless pile of criticism anyway. It's certainly more fun to do.

  • http://dancerobotdance.com Brian

    What do you mean "deflecting the superficial questions?" If you mean not giving too much thought about the packaging of a band by whatever forces control them — whether corporate or indie cred or cynicism — then deflecting I am. I only see videos these days on the internets, and usually only if I'm hunting them down. 99% of what I hear nowadays I have no idea whether it's one dude on a laptop with Ableton, or band, or whatever unless I go find their web site.

    In addition, I wouldn't know anything about the David Lynch connection just by watching the video. Of course, when I click through it's bigger than Jesus, but I rarely click through.

    Lastly, as far as coverage of artists, I don't think what Au Revior Simone does has much to do with creating digital music anyway. Is playing a Juno and an old drum machine creating digital music? I wouldn't be surprised to find them on DesignSponge or Etsy, or Synthtopia, actually. They're like the cute folky girls we all had crushes on but they play cooler instruments. Gimme some Liz Revision on my CDM, thankyouverymuch.

  • http://nostromo.noisepages.com Marc Nostromo

    I seriously think it's not worth discussing artists in CDM. It will always lead to tons of yes I like it/no I don't. So, IMHO, unless there's a clear point towards CDM's editorial content (but you do that already) it shouldn't be part of it.

    You could go that way but I reckon it's should be part of another column.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, Propellerhead Record has now generated something on the order of 400 comments boiling down to "rah, rah" / "boo", so avoiding controversy is a bad reason to avoid covering artists.

    Au Revoir Simone and bands like them *are* what electronic music performance are to most people. So, that suggests to me a certain goal for CDM. Keyboard Magazine has struggled with similar questions over the years, compounded by this sort of feeling of "crap, find someone fronting a band playing keys instead of a guitar – SOMEONE, ANYONE." Somehow, in the 80s Keyboard had all these interviews with Wendy Carlos… I'm not sure she even DOES interviews with anyone any more.

    Again, I think we have a luxury – the site has been, always will be about the role of technology in process. Technology is never just about technology, because it's an invention of human creativity and – in music – used to make more. So we have an intelligent filter that allows us to navigate around some of these other issues.

  • mimou

    There's a lot of interesting artists making music in some interesting ways. From the analog loving echospace guys I linked to above to raster-noton or autechre on digital/computer side. It'd be fun to read about technology in use in context of actual music. And by using technology I mean something else than playing a preset from nord electro, no offence to Au Revoir Simone.

  • http://dancerobotdance.com Brian

    I like mimou's point. I totally agree that "here's what they're doing and here's how they're doing it" is perfect and would be great from a CDM standpoint.

    But I disagree that Au Revoir Simone represents electronic music to most people. Maybe Radiohead and Depeche Mode. My girlfriend would never hear ARS and think "synthesizers."

  • http://www.PatternMusic.com RichardL

    The geek equivalent of a leggy blond lolling over the hood of a 1968 Corvette. (I especially like the bow around the effect box.)

  • Bill

    Thank you for this, Peter. People get too caught up on the "how" and forget about the "why?".

    quantize said what I would say if he hadn't.

  • http://www.circuitreerecords.com Paul Gaeta

    Peter,

    I just posted an in depth interview with Jimmy Edgar for the Circuitree Records blog:

    http://www.circuitreerecords.com

    We feel that his music is not only cutting edge, but also sexy and full of tension. It manages to be extremely danceable, while not falling into the cliche traps of facile nostalgia.

    He has also given us a custom built Reaktor patch, for download on our page, which he made for those of us interested in using new tools.

    If you're not familiar with his work, we have posted one of his track off our Silicon Graffiti compilation. He has also released music on the almighty Warp Records.

  • dead_red_eyes

    From these 2 videos, Au Revoir Simone sounds like a boring and wishy-washy copy of Ms. John Soda and Lali Puna.

  • Michael Pearson

    Watching this again .. I realised why it makes me feel uncomfortable: they look so bored!

    It's that thing when you're stuck on stage playing the same three-chord arpeggio pattern over and over again…

  • Michael Pearson

    Also, yes, please more writing about bands!

    This is refreshing, most writing-about-bands is indulgent wankery.

  • http://www.myspace.com/ellulband Joel St. Julien

    electronic music was always about taking risks and had a punk aesthetic that pushed what sound could do to the limits…what's unfortunate, or i guess just life, is that people will co-opt it into digestible portions for better or for worse. either way, peter, i support your suspicion.

  • Pingback: Create Digital Music » Upcoming Final Fantasy Album: Treating the Orchestra Like an Analog Synth

  • avant

    Thanks for shareing what not to do.

    The video's suck like a smelly egg and the music

    it puts me to sleep. They should call their music sleepers music for being so boring. Now I have to sleep. goodnight.

  • http://www.soyuz7.net Cosmonaut

    i think it is very nice you ask for suggestion who to cover. i respect your tech writing but only read you once a month because you like to cover avante garde or indie kitsch peoples.

    i think half is not your fault. synthesis i think, is nearing a dead end and musicianship is replaced by remixing, as similar to hip hop and house in the 90s. and to agree with chaircrusher, i resent seeing photos / videos of girls with synths for no reason other than they are pretty there are just as many valid other guys and girls that do not credit simply because they do not enjoy a look or cool genre.

    on XM radio i hear many people that would make good interviews.. above & beyond, blank & jones… also maybe ask people to recommend their tracks to you? sound cloud has a drop box you could receive tracks to review and then ask the person about it.

  • http://www.soyuz7.net Cosmonaut

    also, your comments show that your readers are more interested in electronic music rather than pop. it may be good to be relevant, but i never think it was a pop issue since the 80's.

    i think people would appreciate more honest effort shown rather than big names that are more fashion. comments against big names and bands like this are becoming more common on blogs and i feel not like a jerk anymore.

  • http://www.soyuz7.net Cosmonaut

    "It manages to be extremely danceable, while not falling into the cliche traps of facile nostalgia."

    that is untrue. i would call it neo nostalgia or faux credibility. in the old days, kids would make their own clothes. now they buy them from shops like american apparel and pose in fake Polaroid photos. it is a manufactured past and the thin and wispy sound of the video makes me think i am looking at those fake and hazy photoshopped pictures.

    overall it is a problem with our media. people do think they can make their ways and be good at it.

  • http://www.soyuz7.net Cosmonaut

    overall it is a problem with our media. people do not think they can make their ways and be good at it.

    i am sorry.

  • Malik

    David Lynch continues to slip. I hope he gets it together soon.

  • shawn

    I love the shadows video and the band completely. This is a lullaby. It's got Jungian imagery. The video is made crisp. The girls are performing for the shadows surrounding them. The audience is in the shadows.

    Here's a fun trip: try to take the lyrics as a pre-written response to this review and subsequent comments. Your mentioned problem becomes the question the song writes about.

  • frankenpop

    Hm. I think the only way this video could reconcile itself to "real" nostalgia is if the Nord were swapped out for a Rhodes.

    As it is, the Juno almost feels misplaced amidst all the glare and polish. Too clean, too flat, just a bit past half-baked for my taste.

  • CasioNova

    The REAL question is why the camera never goes near the Casio MT-70 though it is playing the dominate riff. (I thought 931 based Casios have been oh so hip for quite sometime?)