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Jon Auer - Songs From the Year of Our Demise

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Artist: Jon Auer

Album: Songs From the Year of Our Demise

Label: Pattern 25

Review date: Apr. 24, 2006

It wouldn’t have felt right had 2005 passed without Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow (the only mainstays in Seattle’s melancholy power-pop outfit the Posies) missing another chance at big success. The two of them have played with Big Star legend Alex Chilton for years now, and those shows have always gone as smoothly as could be expected. In Space, the ’05 Big Star album with Auer and Stringfellow on board, could have been great. It could have defied the cynical expectations. It didn’t, though. Not that it was terrible. It was just deeply mediocre. And it left Auer and Stringfellow without their long-awaited launch into stardom. I guess they’re still big in Germany.

To his credit, Auer never seemed as thirsty for it as Stringfellow. Let the skinny one have the sharp looks, frighteningly powerful voice and ever-shifting persona. Auer is a pop classicist, a lifelong student. He understands and absorbs most anyone of the tribe (his definitive 6 ½ EP treated Serge Gainsbourg, Grant Hart, Ween and Madonna, among others) without ever seeming to think of himself on that level.

That detachment leaves him free to keep it subtle and humble. Under that cover, he’s created some of the most psychologically complex pop music of the last two decades. A good Auer track plays on the simultaneous excitement and melancholy that drives all good pop, the feeling of hearing a melody, recalling it from better times, and reflecting on the distance.

Some of the strongest stuff on Songs From the Year of Our Demise, Auer’s first proper, self-written solo record, navigates that divide explicitly, in terms of human relations. “Cemetery Song,” a demure C&W detour, takes the most direct look at the freezing loss that fogs up most of these songs. “Josephine” and “Angelita” mourn lost company, while “You Used to Drive Me Around” justifies familial coldness. As with his most haunting Posies songs, the failure or unwillingness to communicate looms larger than communication’s possible consequences. “Bottom of the Bottle,” an optimistic sequel to the Posies 1998 anti-alcohol ballad “Every Bitter Drop,” at least comes up with some nice things to say to a fuckup without sacrificing sincerity.

Songs From the Year of Our Demise never achieves the crunch or the sugar highs that still makes Posies records so addictive, but it never really needs it. This is pop for adults. Adulthood may offer diminishing returns in terms of pure pop bliss, but it makes up for it in its variety of angles through which to regard the notion of pure pop bliss. Put on Demise and get some of the darker ones out of the way.

By Emerson Dameron

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