What I can I say about Avec Sans that I haven’t already? Probably not a lot; but they’ve just gone and released their début full-lengther so let’s give it a go, eh? To call their new album, sharing the title Heartbreak Hi with their first single, long-awaited would be an understatement. I’ve always seen The Sans as an album band, so the slow trickle of singles over the past four years has been tantalizing in the extreme and now that time has come I can well and truly say that a large body of Avec Sans work feels as satisfying as I’d always thought it would.
To bring you up to speed (insert American TV voice here: “Previously on Avec Sans…”); Avec Sans are, without question, amongst the top tier ElectroPop artists the UK has ever produced, and definitely one if, if not the best in the past decade. Striking the perfect balance between machine music and deep emotion in all elements of their sound as Jack St James offers up a deft combination of spiky, jagged synths and lush, evocative arrangements while Alice Fox’s voice flits between icy aloofness and heartfelt passion. This blending of cold and warm, dark and light, is what makes Avec Sans’s music such a rich experience. And it’s pretty groovy too! They serve up something for the heart, the head and the feet.
Heartbreak Hi is a both a culmination of the past few years of work and an introduction to new, sometimes surprising, material. All the singles are present and correct from their premiére tracks Perth and Heartbreak Hi, through The Answer, Hold On, Shiver, All Of Time,and Resonate to When You Go. So, rather than going over the singles again, we thought we’d take a trip down memory lane and re-visit our first impressions of the tracks. Here’s a rundown of Avec Sans’ previous singles, featured on Heartbreak Hi, via the medium of quoting our original thoughts:
♫ Avec Sans – Heartbreak Hi
Heartbreak Hi: “The track itself is glorious, rousing slice of razor sharp ElectroPop. With a very slight Industrial quality to it, that is tempered by Alice Fox’s impassioned vocals. It’s rare for a new ElectroPop act to come along and sound so polished and mature from the get-go.” (June 2012)
Shiver: “Catchy, but in an intelligent way, the tune is a cavalcade of buzzing synths and dance beats. Ms. Fox’s vocals sound more epic than ever, set to a sweeping, driving, slice of ElectroPop gold.” (November 2013)
When You Go: “Swoosh! That’s how When You Go begins. Once suitably swooshed you’ll be treated to a booming and majestic tune that sees Jack playing with an almost Dubby groove, albeit it a Dubby groove run through his humming RoboPop machines while Alice’s smoky vocal delivers that particular gloomy optimism that only she can.” (July 2015)
Hold On: “Hold On delivers compelling beats, a swirl of biting synths and a chorus that’ll stick in your head all day. What more could you want?” (June 2013)
The Answer: “If you said to me that this was a track created by a guy who has experimented with many different forms of electronic music and a vocalist who cut her teeth on the Indie band circuit, I would say that’s exactly what it is.” (November 2012)
Resonate: “Resonate is a thumping mid-tempo ElectroPop epic that it’s hard not to get swept up in as the starlight arpeggios swirl around an intimate and intoxicating vocal performance, all set to a hammerfall kick.” (April 2015)
All Of Time: “…a rousing, emotional SynthPop track with a surprising and powerful Indie sensibility. Piercing synths and Alice’s passionate vocal delivery wash over some tight dance beats on this one.” (August 2014)
Perth: “…a seriously classy cover of Bon Iver’s Perth” (June 2012)
All of which goes to show two things. Firstly that I am a terrible writer (but we knew this anyway, right?). Secondly that Avec Sans have been offering up the finest of tunes consistently since 2012; and by ‘consistently’ I don’t mean quantity, I mean consistently high quality. There’s a craftsmanship (and craftswomanship) and attention to sonic detail going on here that I’m sure some other acts would have found exhausting to keep up.
♫ Avec Sans – Shiver
All of that is precluded by the album opener, Even The Echoes, which layers on the atmosphere in true album intro style. The track actually sets up the album really well, all the Sans elements are in place. Jack’s sample manipulation and growling tones, Alice’s slightly sad anthems. All just a little reined in, tempo-wise, to ease you into proceedings. To the trained ear (and when I say trained, I mean: have listened to a lot of Aves Sans on busses in the past four years) the evolution and increasing musical confidence throughout their carrier is apparent in Heartbreak Hi’s catalogue; and damn, We Are is an evolved and confident tune. A sublime Pop track with beats and a hook that are surprisingly early-90s. I mean, seriously, it’s synth horns and hushed vocals could have easily been featured on the early days of MTV UK. A proper Pop anthem.
History, for me anyway, is the unforeseen standout of the new album tracks. A departure from Avec Sans’ crisp and regimented SynthPop into something with a gentle, almost R&B swing at times, a thick dancefloor bass and an IndiePop refrain. Which is an odd combination but when put into musical context, with Jack’s production and Alice’s delivery, is a combination that both works as an Avec Sans track, and give the duo a chance to flex their musical muscles slightly outside of the comfort zone (with total success!).
Gun to my head; Close My Eyes is my least favourite track on the album. Not a bad song by any means, I particularly like the lyrical imagery and the little squirly (that’s a word damnit!) bit in the riff, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of it’s album mates. The album closer, Mistakes, however, is perfectly placed to ease you out of the record. A song full of regrets and reflection that pairs a hushed lament with a hazy swirl of rising keys that eventually breaks, like tension snapping, for the track’s, and album’s, beat driven finale.
♫ Avec Sans – When You Go
Which leads us to one last point of order. What’s my favourite Avec Sans song then? Well, now there is a large enough body of work out there I can safely say that it’s Hold On, for various reasons. Musically it speaks to my love of abrasive sounds made into something beautiful; an emotional and warm track comprised of chainsaw synths and piercing leads with a catchy as hell hook. Lyrically I find it totally relatable. I’ve no idea what Alice wrote the track about, but in the finest tradition of the listener interpreting the song, it is scary how it could have been written about a certain time in my life (more than any song I’ve head in the past decade or so!). Thankfully a time long in the past, still gives me goosebumps hearing a song about it though. Especially one that makes me want to dance!
♫ Avec Sans – Hold On
To sum up, in case you haven’t been paying attention. Just go and buy this album. A ‘summing up’ paragraph seems a little redundant at this point, if you read this website then you will love this album, without a doubt. It’s been a long time coming and doesn’t disappoint. It also feels a bt like the end of Aves Sans chapter one, and we are already excited about what Jack and Alice will bring us for chapter two.
Avec Sans’ Heartbreak Hi is out now on digital and CD, you can pre-order the vinyl here.
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