Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Airs - A Left Turn at Happiness (2010) 12/100.

A recent fad amongst young musicians today is the black metal and shoegaze hybrid. I find that when this style is done properly, it can churn out some of the most beautiful black metal hybrids, but when it’s done wrong, it results can be devastating. Unfortunately, Airs, a two-man American project new to the metal world, fall into the latter category of bands who completely fool themselves and their listening public into thinking they make worthwhile music. Unlike many of the bands in this hybrid of styles, Airs aren’t primarily metal. In fact, for the most part, they’re not even metal at all. Their beginning as an instrumental band has seemingly been their preferred choice of stylistic approach for this debut full-length, entitled ‘A Left Turn At Happiness’. Originally I had expected, given the name of the album and the lyrical themes of the band, that this would be a depressive black metal meets shoegaze type affair, like they usually are these days. I was somewhat right in my assumptions because the drumming, which sounds incredibly hollow and rigid, is one aspect of the instrumentation that reminds me of the depressive sub-genre. The occasionally embarrassing song title, like ‘Bloody & Scarred (A Cheerful Tale Of Self-Ham)’ also has me believing there are some depressive roots to this album, some that are not found in the emotive qualities, or lack there of, in the atmospherics.

Like bands such as Exiled From Light, Airs use similar sorts of monotonous textures on their drumming patterns and have a very hollow style which doesn’t really compliment the music well. In fact, songs like the overly technical -- or as technical as this type of music can become -- ‘Airs’ is a prime example of how the drumming really doesn’t meld well into the mixture. Although the guitars are somewhat distorted, playing progressively tinted solos along the way, the occasionally psychedelic material doesn’t require a hard edge to it. This is something the drums provide and, not for the first time, the music doesn’t feel as if it fits together properly, as if there are numerous pieces to the jigsaw missing. The production plays a small role in the downfall, though the instrumentation, lack of longevity and general failings of the song writing do much worse to harm the outcome of this ambitious, but lacklustre affair. There is a rigidity to the instrumentation despite the fact that the atmospherics are generally very calm. ‘Fascism Avenue’, for example, is a relatively peaceful song.

It consists of layered instrumentation in the form of a clean guitar build-up, slow drumming and, again, no vocals. The track soon becomes more metallic with a distorted base, but there is no power, or memorable qualities in the riffing and given the hollow, static and synthetic nature of the drums, which could be programmed, the music doesn’t flow at all well from one moment to another and the message of the album, it’s essence if you will, is lost between the transition from neo-folksy music, to supposedly being shoegaze, back to black metal. I must admit that I don’t feel much of a shoegaze influence at all. In bands like Alcest it feels completely clear as to what part the shoegaze elements play, but here, it merely feels confused. There is a lack of cohesion between each influence, whatever they may be and given the synthetic nature of the atmospherics, the album crumbles are the under of even the slightest criticism. Ambition and vision are easy things to have, but very difficult to project in such a way that seems worthwhile. This album just doesn’t have enough redeeming qualities to make it a worthwhile venture. It feels painfully synthetic and rife with problematic issues like the awful drumming and the lack of a vocal leader tying things together.

Perhaps some vocals could have tied this together, but I feel even vocal displays, of which there appears to be on other Airs material, couldn’t save this car-wreck of an album from its own pretentious ambitions, or the sheer lack of quality in the song writing, which falls short on every song and the pointless feel to each and every moment that passes by -- from the unexpected solos on songs like ‘Bloody & Scarred (A Cheerful Tale Of Self-Harm)’, to the awful drumming and overly ambitious attempts at fusing acoustics into the soundscapes, a ploy which falls flat on its face immediately. ‘One Step Closer To Total Fucking Annihilation’ is a good example of this. The acoustics and ambiance lead the song in well, but the lack of fluidity between the distortion of the disappointing guitar riffs, lack of penetrative qualities of the drums don’t mix well with the earlier attempts at subtle beauty and psychedelic undertones. The cleaner guitar parts are an improvement on the rest of the “harsh” material, but feel burdened by the lack of strength in the overall song writing and structures. Like a building, the song needs a good foundation to build upon and none of the songs present here have that. All in all, this is one album I wouldn’t want to revisit even if I was paid to do so. Ambitious, but terrible and incredibly naïve at points.

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