Reviewed by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
Au Suisse is the much-anticipated pairing of producer Morgan Geist and vocalist Kelley Polar, aka Mike Kelley. Though perhaps that should read ‘re-pairing’, as the pair have a good deal of previous since they met at Ohio’s Oberlin College in the early 1990s. They worked together when Geist was part of the revered house / techno duo Metro Area, Kelley guesting on some of their vocal tracks, while Geist produced two Kelley Polar albums on his Environ label – records that really should be better known.
Au Suisse has a slightly different balance, as it finds them enjoying their first collaboration as equal partners, writing songs together rather than apart.
What’s the music like?
Rather special. As old friends, these two know what makes each other tick, and they clearly enjoy making music together – but there is something about the new venture that goes more deeply into personal experience than before. It almost goes without saying that Geist and Kelley would make elegant and classy electro pop, but the music of Au Suisse is like a beautifully coiffured object, with a series of influences stretching back to the 1980s.
Control is an atmospheric and poised first song, ghosting in on a single held note and holding back so you can hear every word before the electronics properly kick in. By contrast Thing is an uptempo workout, with urgency from the keyboards.
GC is a striking song, with a lush backdrop of keyboards and the striking observation of its controlling subject, “It’s how you pull the strings from so far away”. The dappled keyboards of Vesna are beautifully realised, and here Kelley’s vocals evoke Green Gartside of Scritti Politti or Paddy McAloon of 1980s Prefab Sprout, emitting a subtle euphoria but not without pain and regret behind. Indeed, Pain And Regret is the title of one of the songs, with an account of how “We know we tear each other apart”. Eely strips back to minimal thoughts and textures, a little more soulful in Kelley’s vocal, while the bass line for Plans curls round the edges like a lazy flame, the keyboards panning out for more thoughtful pop. The closing AG is a broadly sketched beauty, with ticking hi hat and piled-on reverb, as though Kelley has turned round at the door to give us some final thoughts in falsetto before the pair take their leave.
If it sounds like the music of Au Suisse is on a bit of a downer, that is emphatically not the case – rather it is bittersweet, elegant and beautifully poised. These two know what they’re doing, and classy pop music comes naturally to them.
Does it all work?
It does indeed. These songs are exquisitely crafted, with not a note out of place. The hushed vocals pull the ear in, and at the same time offer the opportunity to appreciate Morgan Geist’s beautiful production sets.
Is it recommended?
An easy decision. Au Suisse is like meeting an old friend – which ironically is the root of the whole project. Morgan Geist and Kelley Polar have crafted an exquisite album which is by turns classy, cultured and subtly uplifting.