Release Date: Jun 11, 2013
Record label: R&S
Genre(s): Electronic, Club/Dance
Airhead has long played second fiddle to James Blake. He collaborated with the pop star before he was famous, and now tours with him as his guitarist. His understated explorations with voice, guitar and sub-bass helped to define the wobbly aesthetic Blake would carry with him into stardom. It's not as if Airhead's been languishing in obscurity—he signed to R&S last year and has released two well-received EPs—but he hasn't had the crossover success of his closest peers either.
Rob McAndrews, a.k.a. Airhead, is best known for collaborating with James Blake, which will do as much to foster an audience for his own albums as it will threaten to overshadow them. Like Blake (and his associates in Mount Kimbie), McAndrews makes low-key electronic music that never lets you forget the human presence behind it. In Blake's case, it's his ghostly pillow talk; in McAndrews', it's delicately plucked guitars, grainy field recordings, and a naturalistic sense of drift more akin to ambient music than techno.
It’s unlikely you will read a review of Airhead’s For Years that does not devote at least some space to James Blake. Because behind Airhead is Rob McAndrews, a school-days friend of Blake’s and the guitarist in his touring band. The two jointly released the Pembroke single in early 2010; McAndrews earned a co-writing credit on “Lindisfarne,” a highlight from Blake’s self-titled debut; and McAndrews collaborated with Blake and Brian Eno on “Digital Lion” from this year’s Overgrown.
After strumming as touring guitarist for James Blake, Rob McAndrews, the man behind Airhead, expands by tracking post-dubstep melodies of his own. His debut album, For Years, reveals McAndrews as a DJ with potential, but he must develop stronger concentration for his sound to transcend to new heights. Tracks like “Wait” display an adventurous spirit.
Rob McAndrews, best known as a relative unknown orbiting the quizzically successful, electronic pseudo-pop Briton James Blake, has every reason to want out of his pal’s sallow shadow. Once labelmates at the enduring R&S imprint, only Airhead remains there now, and for damn good reason. Though operating with a similarly melancholy ethos as Blake, McAndrews’ take is tepid like air-cooling bathwater, disposable with the flick of a drain switch.
Rob McAndrews has been silently bubbling up since the start of the decade. As Airhead, some of his first records came out as collaborations with the now global star James Blake and for the last two and half years he has toured alongside Blake as his live guitarist, all while piecing together emotive and acoustically informed electronic music. The first taste of Airhead as we know him came in the form of “Wait,” his first single for R&S Records.
There really isn’t better context to set this review than the fact that Airhead is Rob McAndrews, James Blake’s guitarist. So it should come as no real surprise that what unfolds in For Years is something a bit like the missing step between Mount Kimbie’s debut and their latest offering for Warp; a singer-songwriter-like approach to the British electronic music rounded up by R&S during its London-based 2009 re-launch. Having worked extensively with both the wunderkind and, more recently, Brian Eno, there was obvious potential for his first record to sound similar to these peers in many ways.