Both Lights, the most-recent release by Portland, Ore.'s AU, comes packaged in a metallic sleeve. With a name taken from the Periodic Table's symbol for gold, it's only natural that AU's album would be tinged with a patina of the shimmery element. And with its music, experimental duo Luke Wyland and Dana Valatka also reach for something soft, shiny and malleable.
The opening track, "Epic," begins with a meandering drum section that evolves into frantically bleating guitars before a dramatic army of horns crescendo and then segue into the more subdued second track "Get Alive." There, Wyland's chants are sung as a warble, the accompanying horns and pianos creating a sound comparable to AU's psychedelic contemporaries Animal Collective.
Wyland plays a host of different instruments on the record and provides most of the vocals, while longtime pal Valatka does percussion. The duo fleshes out its sound from track to track by enlisting Portland peers to provide viola, cello and even tuba. On this album, AU recruited Colin Stetson of Bon Iver and Arcade Fire fame to provide saxophone and bass.
The tracks with more players tend to be up-tempo and groovable, while the slower eddies of the album--like the somber instrumental "The Veil" or the spacey hymn "Go Slow"--give Both Lights a depth often lacking in the experimental genre. At times, the album lapses into more madcap ditties like "Today/Tonight," which last only a minute or two, with Wyland's vocals emanating like some otherworldly instrument.
While AU's sound displays an incredible orchestral know-how, there's an undeniable effervescence of fun that bubbles forth from every nook and cranny. With its third album, the band has sanded down its rough edges into oh-so-smooth sonics.