Auxes began as the solo project of Dave Laney, the Milemarker and Challenger co-founder who returned to North Carolina from Chicago in the winter of 2006. Laney has since gone north again, but during his two-plus years here, he recorded an album by himself and formed a six-piece band, Auxes, around the songs that eventually became Sunshine, the band's concurrently fantastic and flummoxing debut.
Actually, it's not the band's record at all. It's Laney's. Self-written, -recorded and -performed during his 18 months above Cliff's Meat Market in Carrboro, Sunshine lets Laney stretch his bounds. The record comes frontloaded with angular post-punk, its hooks alternately riding disco beats or charging rock rolls. "Cold Day in Hell," which sits exactly in the middle, explodes from an acoustic ballad into a horn-backed march. The second side explores vaudevillian weirdness and communal sing-alongs. Throughout, Laney—his voice nervous and wobbly, an open manifest of the romantic indecision and peril of which he sings—convinces, preaching these songs for a self-built, protected universe.
The record's sprawl could easily be attributed to Laney's one-man band approach for recording it. After all, only Ben Davis contributed an extra instrument (the lap steel), and Davis, Tara Grayson, Pete Wagner and Bellafea's Heather McEntire added vocals to several tracks. But Laney's previous work with Milemarker and Challenger always strove to challenge stylistic and sonic mores within the context of one record, to include diversity rather than doggedly pursue consistency. Sunshine suffers and succeeds because of that approach: Closers "Brother" and "Hometowns," which offer images of fleeing in pursuit of a new chance, use choir-like vocals to bolster two excellent melodies. The thrum of the former sits provocatively beside the campfire calm of the latter.
"Greeting Card Perfume," though, sounds like Tom Waits funneling Bukowski funneling Baudelaire, and its unnecessarily oblique motions could use a bandmate's editing or, at the least, playfulness. Similarly, as multi-talented as Laney is, the band he's now formed includes Caltrop's John Crouch and Milemarker alumni Noah Leger and Ben Davis. On tracks like "Radio! Radio!" or "The Things Lovers Do," you want to hear a part pop a bit harder, or for the second guitar to playing something more fierce than the counter-melody. Perhaps the performances of these songs would be that much stronger given the band's earlier involvement. Either way, Laney alone is engaging enough to make me hope there's a next time for Auxes.
Auxes tours America and Europe through October.