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Less is more

The beautifully contracted AU

AU: They like it big, even when it's small. Photo courtesy of Pat Kehoe/MySpace

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AU is a band shrinking in the aftermath - having recently been hotly engorged. Ballooning from a solo bedroom pop act to a remarkable 20 members, the band became an experimental chamber pop collection that utilized every hand and voice in creating thickly orchestrated arrangements. As of their 2008 recording, Verbs, it was not uncommon - on record or in performance - for AU to feature a band that verged on an orchestra, even including a choir at times.

These days, due mostly to the complications of maintaining such an enormous entity, AU is only a duo, led by founder Luke Wyland.

To represent this shift, from big to small, AU has released Versions - an album of previously released material that has been rearranged to more closely resemble what their live show is actually like today. While the songs are stripped down to an extent, they persist in sounding gigantic and full of stubborn tension.

"For me, the strength in the smaller numbers is that it's more intimate, and there's more interplay between us," says Wyland. "It's a lot more rhythmic, a lot more loud, compared to the old, more classical stuff."

The only new song featured on Versions ("Ida Walked Away") rides high on a swell of desperate guitars, while Wyland's signature voice keeps threatening to blow the song wide open. It never quite does. The song exists as a ball of energy that fights to unfurl, but is ultimately held shakily together.

Far from being a detriment, the reduction of band members has seemed to concentrate and accentuate the drama inherent in Wyland's songwriting. As an accompanist, drummer Dana Valatka is more than capable, bringing about urgent catharsis when the songs threaten to overwhelm.

Setting aside all of this, what remains the defining appeal of AU is Wyland's unusually affecting voice. It's an ethereal croon - similar in its wounded falsetto beauty to Antony Hegarty or Wild Beasts' Hayden Thorpe - lending a certain grandeur to the proceedings, even when accompanied only by minimal instrumentation.

As a two-piece, AU now highlights its principal strength more than ever.


With Ocean Age
and Pill Wonder
Thursday, May 27, 9 p.m., all ages, $6
Northern, 321 Fourth Ave., Olympia

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