Once upon a time, there was a band called Au Revoir Borealis that released a delightful little EP titled Tienken. Aside from a few other appearances here and there, I sort of lost track of the band and its members soon afterwards. That is, until I found out about For Wishes’ I Will Burn Your Winter, a solo project from Au Revoir Borealis’ Steve Swartz.
For Wishes bears many sonic similarities to Au Revoir Borealis, as both bands are cut from the same gossamery cloth. But For Wishes is much less prone to drift about — it focuses less on the atmospherics and more on Swartz’ vocals and songwriting. The album’s directness gives it an almost folk-y approach, albeit with silvery guitars that drift and shimmer and slight electronics.
Shoegazer-type music has never really been known for its lyrical depth. That’s one of the weaknesses, I suppose, of the “vocals as just another instrument” approach. You slather a voice with enough effects, and bury it beneath several layers of fuzzed out guitars, and it doesn’t matter what you sing; it’ll always sound like a choir of angels singing amongst the stars but it does sometimes leave a faceless impression. But with a more stripped down sound, the lyrics on I Will Burn Your Winter come to the forefront, with evocative and impassioned results.
The lyrics often deal with relationships — romantic, spiritual, or otherwise. To be more precise, the lyrics deal with the gulfs and inadequacies that are simply part of any relationship, and with trying to find something redeeming or beautiful in that.
On “Spangle Maker,” Swartz sings “This moment can only be sung/But my words feel like prostitutes on holy ground/And that’s the beauty of it all, I guess.” Later, on “The Farthest Expanse Is Us,” he sings “Baptized under the same waters/We’re oceans apart/But for the sake of the other I swim/Though they don’t know the secret that I keep so buried and twisted.” Meanwhile, a slide guitar soars off in the distance, breaking free from the layers of percussion, adding an additional sense of hopeful longing to the song.
And on “60°N 30°W,” the album’s loudest track, one hears “Who was the storm and what was the sea/That shattered and tattered you and me? […] Ripped from fingers, clenched tight in fear/Washed overboard, wishing you could hear/My crying, pleading prayer” while being buffeted by a roiling, Cure-esque guitar solo.
But Swartz doesn’t leave things there in the dark, doubting place. While acknowledging the gulfs, he leaves open the possibility of peace and reconciliation. “Vow” finds Swartz lifting a page or two from the Psalms as he sings “I am close to you, whose heart is breaking/I will rescue you, who’s crushed in spirit/May I rebuild you and you trust in me/Of honor and brave hearts, I will give if you will trust me.”
It’s is this lyrical depth and passion, combined with Swartz’ weathered, Mark Eitzel-ish vocals — which, might I add, provide a nice contrast to the often fey, androgynous vocals found in shoegazer circles — that make I Will Burn Your Winter such a solid record. Like Jonathan Inc., another band that combines solid, evocative songwriting with an atmospheric lilt, For Wishes is not necessarily music that knocks you down or wisks you away to some dreamy place. Rather, it remains rooted in true, honest human emotion, which allows it to continually grow in the listener’s heart, gaining resonance over time.