Reverse Migration, a track-by-track cover/remix of Au Revoir Simone’s The Bird of Music, suffers from an identity crisis. It doesn’t know if it’s meant to be a tribute album or an opportunity for the remixers to showcase their skills. Featuring contributions from big-name artists like Jean-Benoit Dunkel from Air (under his Darkel alias) and Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor and lesser-knowns such as Sheffield duo Slow Club and DJ Mark Anthony Tieku, this album is plagued by the problem facing all remix albums: Should it appeal to fans of the remixer or fans of the remixee?
It takes a very special remix album — Kings of Convenience’s Versus, for example — to get us really excited. Reverse Migrations is not a very special remix album. It opens weakly with Slow Club’s unnervingly exuberant, folksy twee take on "The Lucky One," one of two straightforward cover versions here, the other being Keith Murray from We Are Scientists’ earnest, late-night busker version of "Don’t See the Sorrow." Neither interpretation adds anything positive to the original, and both sit badly with the rest of the tracks.
The remixes don’t fare much better. For the most part, the remixers are reverently reluctant to tamper with Au Revoir Simone’s originals, particularly the vocals, and leave the tracks irritatingly intact. Best Fwends’ remix of "Dark Halls," Montag’s "Violent But Flammable World" and, most disappointingly Darkels’ "I Couldn’t Sleep" all amount to subtle tweaking — altering the pace here, crystallizing the vocals there. Some of the songs suffer outright injury at the hands of the remixers, such as Disco Pushers’ reworking of "Stars," which strips the original of its soul and sensitivity.
Glimmers of hope do surface at times. The Swedes from Pacific! give "Sad Song" a Beach Boys-esque reworking, with cooing harmonies and jangling melodies. Matt Harding deepens and expands "Night Majestic" until it sounds more complete than its predecessor, while Mark-Anthony Tieku transforms the sonic landscape of "The Way to There" into a sparse, haunting sci-fi ballad.
On only two occasions on Reverse Migrations do the remixers completely abandon deference, dismantle the original synth-pop song and create something truly new and special. The Teenagers take "Fallen Snow" and pare down the vocals into snippets resembling the synthesizers surrounding them, transforming the track into the closest Au Revoir Simone are ever going to get to a dance-floor filler. The album’s highlight comes with Alexis Taylor’s reconstruction of "Sad Song." (It and "The Lucky One" are the only tracks that get reworked twice.) Clocking in at almost eight minutes, the only recognizable sound from the fragile original is a syncopated vocal sample — everything else is Taylor’s own. From the heart-beating, hand-clapping electronic beats through to his trademark shaky, soulful vocals, he makes "Sad Song" his own. It’s a shame that so few of the remixers on here did the same.