2008 sophomore album from the acclaimed Portland, OR pop collective. Verbs, in its swirling depths and subtleties, promises to be one of this year's most satisfying surprises. In the year's time since last leaving off with his self-titled, beautifully accomplished debut, Au (pronounced 'ay you') architect Luke Wyland has made tremendous strides beyond the warmly retiring sensibilities that marked so much of Au-stepping (wisely) outward, and into the less insular confines of community. In practical terms, this mostly meant acquiring a proper band-the core of which consisting of mutual multi-instrumentalists Johnathan Sielaff and Mark Kaylor-but in a vaguer sense, it meant opening up to Portland's considerable creative resources.
Here's another re-write of that old "not that many people saw the Velvet Underground play but everyone who did started a band"-adage: A fair amount of people have seen Animal Collective play and lots of them bought five Halloween masks, three samplers, two drum machines, and started an art-rock collective. It's no fun to damn a group with "X sounds like Y," but AC comparisons will dog Au the way White Stripes follow the Black Keys: a series of prevalent but not insurmountable similarities. For all the sonic elements-- trebly guitars, cacophonous vocal outbursts, trembling pianos-- they share with AC, it's important to note that Au are decidedly un-weird, not freaky: They are less a group of forest children re-inventing music than an orchestral rock band playing a lot louder and having a lot more fun than most of its peers.
Ultimately the keystone influence for Au-- as hinted by a song from Au leader Luke Wyland's 2005 debut (as "luc"), peaofthesea, "Faith(LouieLouie)Enter"-- may be garage rock band the Kingsmen and their garbled syllabic nonsense. And while Wyland is decidedly the center of the Au universe, Verbs is a "band" album, distilling the efforts of Wyland, Jonathan Sielaff, and Mark Kaylor-- as well as contributions from fellow Portlanders and members of Yellow Swans and Parenthetical Girls. These additions are easy to spot-- guests stop by to play banjos and clarinets instead of "sequencer" or "effects"; the weirdest instrument listed in the somewhat meticulous liners is an amplified accordion-- lending Verbs a transparency and heartiness that Au peers Akron/Family or Caribou sometimes lack.
Verbs' best moments come off like a band camp jam gone artfully haywire. The long instrumental midsection of "All Myself" features a fluttering clarinet and budding trombone before a tapping cymbal adds firmness. "The Waltz" is also highlighted by a clarinet-- wailing, this time-- and the aforementioned accordion, which between them make for a surprisingly seamless swarm'n'drone. "Summerheat" begins with lazily cawing saws before sporadically erupting with percussion and ringing amplifiers. Wyland's clever, too: he follows the sunshine-big gospel choruses of "All My Friends" with the ape-cage percussion and barreling organ of "Are Animals". Wyland doesn't have a bad set of pipes, but he's more productive as a de facto orchestra director than as a proper tunesmith: his neck-straining leads the way during "Summerheat" and "The Waltz", ushering his pals in and out of the mix, guiding their rabble-rousing with his own see-sawing intensity.
Only during Verbs' most ponderous and deliberate moments-- the quiet coda "Sleep", the late morning simmer of "Two Seasons"-- does the album's vibrancy and bluster erode. Parts of Verbs feel deliberately uptempo and chirpy, but even at its most forced the album represents a win for Wyland, who has finally aimed his off-kilter psychedelia in a direction worth pursuing.
— Andrew Gaerig, July 15, 2008