Alone I Admire - Pitchfork review

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Auburn Lull
Alone I Admire
[Burnt Hair; 1999; r: Darla; 2002]
Rating: 9.0

"Occasionally you'll come across a bandname that describes its aura more succinctly than you ever could. The 'Auburn Lull'-- that warm, radiant feeling that stays with you when your girlfriend's gone home, after a psychedelic trip or just a long, lazy day at the beach. It's an apt name for the musicians, who holed up between the summer of 1997 and the spring of 1998 and carved out the thick slabs of resonance that became Alone I Admire. The album was originally released in 1999 on Burnt Hair Records, the Michigan label known for drone excursions by groups like Fxa and Windy & Carl, and it's been out-of-print since shortly thereafter. Darla was wise to secure the reissue: this is a classic, transcending notions of space-rock and shoegazing to reach an apotheosis of pure, vibrant sound.

A massive amount of production work went into Alone I Admire, no doubt due in part to producer Andrew Prinz of Mahogany. The sleeve notes mention the array of microphones spread throughout the studio, centered especially around the drums to create a sensation of depth. The guitar signals were bi-amped for dense resolution, and "it should be noted that several different kinds of sampling and delay units were utilized, as well as a gregarious amount of external reverberation processors." Afterwards the songs were enhanced by further editing and tape looping, and eventually fed into a 16-channel mixing desk. As a result, these slow songs evolve gently through some of the most eyelid-shudderingly rich sonic layers I've ever heard. Audiophiles will revel in a record that finally tests their systems to the limit.

The group begins each track with a simple rhythmic idea, as with the steady cymbal tick that opens "Stockard Drive." A sheet of sound rises up, instruments completely indistinguishable, just this sustained choral hum that builds as the male singer breathes a light refrain. Nothing prepares you for the burst that follows, though, as a searing ray that was once a guitar soars upwards into a gorgeous heliosphere. The timbres throughout Alone I Admire have you reaching sheepishly for embarrassing adjectives like 'glorious' or 'sacred.' There's an all-enveloping, alien perfection to the music that even some legendarily obsessive musicians couldn't quite craft.

The Auburn Lull's success has to do somewhat with the minimal instrumentation they chose. Bass, guitar and drums are augmented by other strings and occasional tape loops and piano strains. "Old Mission" features the bowing of a cello, its solitary nature setting a melancholy counterpoint against the orchestral swell of guitars that follows. "Blur My Thoughts" brightens the mood as angelic pulse tones descend amongst the cavernous bass drum reverb, a constant shimmering that reminds me of Seefeel. That's one of the only comparisons necessary for these otherworldly atmospheres, though, and ethereal vocals intrude to draw you out of total reverie. A sample of foreign language chatter from the television ends the piece on a tense note.

The album's careful to keep enough progressions in play to avoid floating away entirely. On "Desert," the sheen of the guitar permeates the mix at first, chipped into recognizable form by the circling strokes of the percussion. Then a deep rhythm line rises, like dub played on double-bass, shifting the piece into forward motion. Again, the male/female vocal harmony chimes together like a psalm, and the lyrics ("leave without a clue...") turn the title into a verb. But despite the utterly solemn moments on the album, it's striking how nice the melodies are overall. "The Last Beat" in particular heightens the pace with a faster drum shuffle, and the oscillating scree of the guitar brings peaceful images of seagulls gliding over shorelines. It's simply beautiful, uplifting music.

Environments this pristine and patient inevitably get tagged as 'glacial,' but the Auburn Lull drift through spaces far more nebulous, like billowing clouds ringing mountaintops. Of course, some listeners might get lost in the haze, and there will be some who say that the album puts them to sleep. That's partly the point: whereas the rock-oriented shoegazer bands were content to coat their pop songs in cycles of distortion, the Auburn Lull finds an even more engrossing starting point deep within the decay of reverberation. You'll find yourself lulled by the swirling sounds, always spinning forward and yet echoing in the past's delay, caught up in the doldrums and realizing it's a lovely place to be. They may have recorded only one album, but the Auburn Lull have made music fine enough to die to, and I don't think I alone admire their ability to bring heaven to the earth."

-Christopher Dare, July 30, 2002