The songs on Au’s self-titled debut, released in 2007, sounded like they seeped out of peat moss deep in the forests near the band’s hometown of Portland, Oregon. The sterling production by Au’s ringleader, Luke Wyland, created a natural atmosphere that fit somewhere between Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective on the weird-pop scale. With the band’s sophomore album, Verbs, Wyland takes the naturalism that fueled his debut and creates a collection of songs that sound like the changing of the seasons, and are stronger and more expansive than those on his debut.
Verbs may be written and produced by Wyland, but it’s the supporting cast (including members of Portland bands like Parenthetical Girls, A Weather, Saw Whet, Yellow Swans, and Evolutionary Jass Band) that is able to elevate the ecstatic nature of Verbs’ highlights. Opener “All My Friends” boasts a chorus of more than 20 people, and it’s slow, glacier-like tempo perfectly evokes the time of year when the snow starts melting; the blissful “Are Animals” is when the sun gets warm and animals start reappearing. “Summerheat,” with its artillery-shell percussion, is when that first heatwave hits. It’s slow, oppressive, and unrelenting.
That oppressiveness dissipates as album highlight “RR vs. D,” an ecstatic pop love letter to the feel of summer spent at a parade (thanks to the carnival-esque percussion and trombone), bubbles through. Saw Whet’s Becky Dawson handles the singing duties, humming out misnomers like “Get it, one, two, three” as the song marches by her.
The last half of the album is spent in the fall months — a wistful, even-keeled calm envelops the tracks starting with “All Myself” and culminates with the “winter is here” slow-burn of “Sleep.” “Two Seasons,” as its name suggests, rides the line between the last vestiges of fall and the beginnings of winter through its somber guitar and contemplative vocals that give way to a more desolate-sounding coda.
Artists are continually praised for making an album that perfectly captures the feel of summer time (from the Beach Boys, to Usher, to Rihanna). But Verbs takes that formula four-fold; through impressive use of texture and atmospherics, Wyland has created an album that effortlessly evokes different seasons. Verbs is a left-field oddity that can soundtrack your year.