The critical response to Au Revoir Simone’s second album, The Bird of Music, can be evenly split between two consensus-forming camps. The first, bemused by the existence of yet another airy synth-pop album in a post-Postal Service world, rejected the record as another tired example of laptop bubblegum. The second camp, intrigued by the album’s fragility, warmth, and hushed charm, found much to love in the nooks and crannies of the record’s 11 songs. Let me be clear: if you fall into the first camp, you can stop reading this review now. If The Bird of Music failed to pique your interest, nothing on Reverse Migration is going to change your mind. If, however, you fall into the latter camp, there’s a good chance you’ll find that, for the most part, Reverse Migration is every bit as enchanting as the source material that it pulls from.
A self-released remix album, Reverse Migration is available exclusively as a download from various online retailers (though it arrived at my doorstep in an appropriately handmade manner: a CD-R sandwiched between two inkjet printouts in a plastic sleeve, tucked into a hand-addressed envelope bearing the address of the Brooklyn apartment from whence it came). At 13 tracks, it takes the form of a track-by-track remix of The Bird of Music, with two reprisal remixes tacked on at the end. With few exceptions, the remixes on Reverse Migration aim to carefully tinker with rather than completely overhaul Au Revoir Simone’s compositions — a fact that ultimately defines both the album’s strengths and weakness.
U.K. duo Slow Club kicks things off with a remix of “The Lucky One” that reimagines the song as a delicate, folky ballad. Opening with a carefully fingerpicked guitar line and the song’s original vocal track, it slowly folds in a bass drum, tambourine, and a male backing vocal. As it nears its conclusion, the song blossoms into a rollicking, joyous sing-along, climaxing with a chorus of voices — some singing, some talking. Pacific!’s remix of “Sad Song” takes things in an entirely different direction, draping the song’s whispery vocals over a reverb-laden, loungey Casio line, handclaps, and a surprisingly buoyant bass line.
While not entirely devoid of value, the Teenager’s reworking of “Fallen Snow” lacks imagination; it’s about as predictable as four-on-the-floor electro remixes get. Disco Pusher’s remix of “Stars”, while fun, falls into much the same trap, even utilizing a cringe-worthy, vocoderized version of the chorus’ vocal hook shamelessly.
Luckily, there’s plenty of originality to be found here as well. The album’s most thrilling remix, Ruff and Jam’s take on “Lark”, imagines what Au Revoir Simone would sound like with New Order circa 1987 as their backing band. Montag’s pensive remix of “A Violent Yet Flammable World” ticks off the seconds like a grandfather clock before ushering in the retro-futurist Moogs. Keith Murray, like Slow Club, chooses to transform “Don’t See the Sorrow” into a lo-fi acoustic ballad, complete with earnest vocals and Beach Boys-esque three-part harmonies. And Best Fwends manage to inject “Dark Halls” with a bit of their trademark electro-rock punch.
In his cover of “Sad Song”, Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip is the only contributor here bold enough to rework one of Au Revoir Simone’s songs from the ground up. While the first half of the track sounds like the boom-clap electro you’d expect, the second half takes a left turn into singer-songwriter territory. Surprisingly, it mostly works, with Taylor’s earnest delivery and competent guitar playing elevating it above standard busker fare.
Ultimately, Reverse Migration‘s success or lack thereof hinges on your level of tolerance for the original source material. The contributors included here must count themselves among Au Revoir Simone’s fans, as most have played it safe, opting to preserve the mood, sincerity and spacious delivery of the band’s tracks whenever possible. While Reverse Migration is unlikely to make the band any new fans, it stands as a pleasant enough stopgap for those willing to seek it out online. Revolutionary, it ain’t, though if you were looking for something more than an album of subtle, breezy electro-pop, you probably should have stopped reading a few paragraphs ago.