Review: AUN – Phantom Ghost

Denovali Records, 2011


1) Phantom
2) Out Of Mind
3) Travellers
4) Nineteen Eighty-Four
5) Orga II
6) Light Years
7) Ghost
8) Berlin

AUN are a peculiar monster. The Quebecois duo of Martin Dumais and Julie Leblanc isn’t all that easy to categorise, as they’ve drifted between guitar drones and synth-based ambience since the inception of the band. Two things are certain, though: one, they don’t sound like anything else you may have heard, and two, they aren’t afraid to experiment. Yet despite the fairly wide palette of sounds they’ve treated us with thus far, they’ve always been pitch black in heart and soul.

Well, not quite so this time around. “Phantom Ghost” is nothing like AUN’s previous material; in fact, if there’s ever been a moment when this sort of music could break into the relative mainstream, this album would be it. The absence of deep drones, the addition of female vocals and disco-like beats… Afraid? Don’t be. This is no meagre attempt at reaching a wider audience. This is melancholy unleashed in all its facets: bittersweet emotions, psychedelic dreams, flashbacks of vague memories, only somewhat based on actual events. It’s a record that’s utterly emotional. This isn’t to say that all the dark magic AUN’s so good at creating has vanished. Not at all; for such a radically different-sounding record, “Phantom Ghost” has retained surprisingly much of that signature sound that the band is famous for. Somehow, although I can’t really put my finger on it, amidst that torrent of emotions unleashed upon the listener, there’s a distinctly AUN-ish vibe. You’ll recognise the same band that made “Black Pyramid” (Cyclic Law, 2010), just in a much more recognisable setting. This is one of the album’s most bizarre points – the band’s music has never sounded so accessible, yet, at the same time, there’s a whole new complexity to it.

The album opener, “Phantom”, has subtle female vocals at the forefront, backed by subtle synth-laden melodies throughout, instantly hinting that something has changed in the sound. Just when you’ve adjusted your senses accordingly to embrace the new sonic space, “Out Of Mind” explodes almost violently, like a supernova of creativity held back for too long. This erupting volcano of a song bustles with fragments of emotions just popping up here and there completely randomly, moving in all directions, while lavish streams of intensity rush down to engulf everything. The fact that it has an actual beat, rhythm and something of a chorus makes it so surprising and hypnotic, so intricately layered and dense, that there’s no chance you don’t end up completely transfixed and captivated by it. The rest of the album is essentially this eruption slowly subsiding, becoming calmer and calmer with each passing track, although this reduction in intensity doesn’t necessarily mean the same in complexity. It feels like browsing through an old photo-album, really – the actual photo is only half of what you’re really seeing. Think Celer, and you’ll have a fairly good idea of what to expect. Once the album has reached its end, AUN’s shift in sound will be the last thing on your mind. You’ll be too consumed by thoughts of how beautiful an experience you’ll have just witnessed.

Remember all those bands who’ve tried (and failed) to justify their self-imposed commercialisation by breaking the mould, freeing themselves from the shackles of their genre or evolving musically? Well, AUN have done all that, without compromising their integrity one bit. Every single note of this record drips with sincerity as much as with emotions. You can hear that this is what feels right for AUN at the moment. “Phantom Ghost” is dark, but a different kind of dark. The beautiful, masochistic, familiar dark. Why, just look at the cover.


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