Air Review Has High Hopes For Its Latest Album.
Back in 2009, Air Review somewhat quietly released their debut album, Landmarks. But while that album eventually went on to earn a fair amount of praise — locally, at least — it was never one the band was entirely happy with. The comparisons to Radiohead and allusions to Brit-pop that began universally cropping up in reviews of the album, says frontman Doug Hale, weren't really the kinds of traits that he and his bandmates wanted to be identified with.
In response, Air Review decided to abandon the album concept in hopes of not only making themselves more appealing to music bloggers, but to help build buzz for their band over a longer period of time than they had enjoyed with the release of Landmarks.
And so, in 2011, Air Review returned with their single “America's Son,” a dramatic shift in vision marked by gentle rhythms, silky falsetto vocals and a pleasing clarinet breakdown.
Their followup singles, which were initially intended to be released as an EP at a later date, have now been formally released as an LP, Low Wishes, a feat the band celebrated over the weekend with a release show at Trees. And even though several of the album's songs have been released previously as singles over the past couple of years, somewhat spoiling the album's surprise, the band doesn't regret the singles route they'd taken, either.
“We didn't necessarily have a change of heart,” Hale says. “We did it, it was fun, it helped us discover who we wanted to be as a band, and then we moved on. It didn't feel right to keep releasing singles, as not every song we were writing felt like a single. The songs started to take shape in a different way, and it started to feel like something more.”
Besides, older tunes like “America's Son,” “My Automatic,” and “Low Wishes,” helped the band establish its newer, folkier direction. The album's new tracks follow similar suit, with an increased focus on adding more layers of noisy guitars and artfully mixing them in to fit in alongside loads of subdued percussion parts, keyboards and the most tasteful incorporation of electronics we've heard from a Dallas band in years. While other genres like hip-hop and pop are increasingly leaning on the crutch of heavy-handed elements from the electronic world, it's refreshing to see these elements meshed into a final product so flawlessly.
“'America's Son' was sort of our answer to our first album being so 'Brit-pop,'” Hale says. “It was basically the catalyst for our new direction and shift in our vision as a band. So when we wrote it, we decided we wanted to write a folksy, American-influenced EP to make a statement in a way. However, as we got further into the writing process, it became evident that we didn't want to merely be a folk band. It's not our forte, and not where we saw ourselves going. As we continued to write, we started to bring more of the layers that we had previously been so adamant about peeling away — more electric guitars, keys, electronics, and percussion. 'Rebel' and 'Animal' are two of the last few songs we wrote, and it just started to feel like we were finding something that worked for us. We bookended the album in those two songs, and it feels right.”
Throughout the new disc, Air Review proves themselves to be deft craftsmen and sound arrangers, especially on tunes like “Waiting Lessons,” which are somehow initially understated and yet so overwhelmingly anthemic. More impressive: The band's acoustic instruments, electric guitars, keyboards and other electronics never feel at odds on the record — a nimble feat that has more than once earned the band the “folktronic” label locally.
Still, even that's not a tag the band takes all that seriously.
“We have heard that label,” Hale says. “It's funny because the first time I heard 'folktronic' was a reference to Ishi. We love Ishi — they're dear friends of ours — but obviously we sound nothing alike. It doesn't bother us at all. Genre labels are silly.”
But none of the careful mixing and/or arranging would amount to all that much without the thematic imagery wonderfully drummed up by Hale's thought-provoking lyrics.
“I've got low wishes but I've got high hopes,” Hale sings on “Low Wishes.” He continues: “I've got no wishes now that I am old. I don't really know what to ask for anymore.”
This underlying sentiment regarding the loss of youth and the realization that there is something more out there weaves throughout all of the tracks on Low Wishes. It's an idea that can be viewed as clandestine religiousness — a concept that perhaps devalues the sentiment here quite a bit — or simply a way to appeal to multiple audiences.
While the band's members don't shy away from their Christian upbringings, they at the same time realize that, while labels like “folktronica” can be meaningless phrases tossed about by music critics, others such as “Christian rock” can diminish the diverse viewpoints the band truly represents with their complex lyricism.
“I wouldn't say we're avoiding anything,” Hale says. “[But] being coined as a religious band oversimplifies who we are as a band and what we present, lyrically. The way we're raised shapes the way we see the world. We all grew up in Christian homes and this undeniably comes across in our lyrics. But the overarching theme of the album is a look at growing into adulthood and realizing that the world, faith and relationships are far more complex than we believed when we were young. This is what I think people will hear when they listen to the record.”
Air Review will perform album release shows on Saturday, February 2, with Centro-matic at Fort Worth's Live Oak Music Hall, and on Thrusday, February 7, with Chambers and Robert Gomez at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton.
Cover photo by Will Von Bolton.