The Autumns by The Autumns (Review)

The Autumns truly exist in their own frost-laden, wintry wonderland, one that is far beyond the confines of today’s current indie clime.
S/T, The Autumns

For the life of me, I can’t quite figure out why The Autumns haven’t received more acclaim than they have. I’m sure some might point out that their exquisite, atmospheric pop is just too earnest and starry-eyed to make it in today’s cynical musical climate. Indie listeners are ever the fickle bunch, after all. Sure, The Autumns, led by the perpetually swooning, Jeff Buckley-ish vocals of Matthew Kelly, make music that feels too delicate for its own good. However, look at the success of other similar artists like Sigur Rós and Coldplay and suddenly that argument doesn’t hold as much water.

Whatever the reason, I’m sure the constant setbacks The Autumns have faced over the years haven’t helped their cause. Label troubles and delays, compounded by financial difficulties (the band had to hold a fundraising concert last year in order to pay for the new album’s mastering), resulted in a 4 year delay after their last record, 2000’s wondrous In The Russet Gold Of This Vain Hour.

However, the long wait is now over and the album is finally in the hands of the faithful, though impatient few. So was the wait worth it? Yes and no.

Those expecting the band to emerge after all these years with a vastly new and improved direction will probably be disappointed. Then again, who was expecting that? The Autumns are a band that knows how to play to their strengths — silvery melodies laden with innumerable guitar filigrees, weepy string arrangements, Liz Frazier-esque lyrics bursting with poetic imagery, and above all else, Kelly’s soaring falsetto — and those strengths are paraded forth again and again throughout the disc.

However, there are moments where it does sound like the past 4 years, the constant delays and setbacks, and the band’s pursuit of creative perfection have taken their toll. Parts of the album feel so carefully programmed and arranged to sound “soaring” and “majestic” that they ring hollow, lacking some of the spark and joie de vivre that enthused efforts such as 2001’s Le Carillon. And sometimes the band plays to certain strengths too much, most notably Kelly’s voice, which strains so hard in places, surpassing even Sigur Rós’ Jonsi Birgisson, that his vocal chords seem on the verge of bursting. That, or he chokes on his own wistfulness.

But elsewhere, the disc holds moments as enthralling as anything the band has recorded to date. When Kelly sighs “Swear I’m only dreaming” on “Deathly Little Dreams,” it’s hard not to agree as the song slowly grows from the sonic equivalent of a light autumn breeze to a tornado-like maelstrom that rivals anything Constellation Records has thrown at us.

Some folks have remarked that it’s only appropriate that this be a self-titled album, as in some ways it represents a snapshot of everything The Autumns have done since Day One. And I’m inclined to agree. “Désolé” progresses along a similar path as the 50’s ballad-inspired Le Carillon, replete with fingersnaps and breathy backing vocals. “Slumberdoll” (a demo version of which previously appeared on the Blisscent 2 compilation) hearkens back to In The Russet Gold Of This Vain Hour, its nimble bassline infusing some nice energy into the album.

Finally, “Wonderfully Wonderful” is probably the purest representation of the band’s sonic talents anywhere on the disc. Here, a searing, e-bowed guitar slowly becomes enmeshed and trapped within a growing lattice of toybox notes and swelling strings. And though the roiling guitar threatens to tear the softer sounds asunder, they not only manage to hold, but grow even more in depth and intensity until the entire song explodes in a climax sure to bring tears to the eyes of any fans of The Angel Pool, the band’s debut album.

I can understand why some might write off The Autumns’ music. The Autumns is certainly overwrought, even ornately so, so full of pretense and melodrama that it’s a wonder the album can even get off the ground. But it does, and does so even majestically in places. The Autumns truly exist in their own frost-laden, wintry wonderland, one that is far beyond the confines of today’s current indie clime. As such, they sometimes feel a bit old-fashioned, adamantly refusing to let go of their fascination with all things shoegazery, shimmery, and romantic while the rest of the “scene” has moved on.

Which is probably we find their music so endearing in the first place.