Release Date: Oct 2, 2012
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
There are many aspects of a long road trip that you should consider before starting the engine of your probably-unfit-to-drive-long-distances car: fuel, food and, of course, music. In that case, consider Sun Airway’s sophomore album Soft Fall your dreamy co-pilot, directing you through all the hairy freeway junctions and drive-thru windows with a calm and inviting voice. The electronic-pop of Jon Barthmus once again brings together the upbeat pop and whimsical electronic orchestration that made Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier such a dynamic debut.
Real beauty lives beyond our senses. It may be the most abstract of all ideas, a non-tangible force that triggers a pleasurable response in its purest form. Unattainable as it may be, it never discourages those who seek it with a passion. Jon Barthmus cultivates all these varieties into a blissful haven of sounds – he grabs from sources that range from the tonalist canvases of James McNeil Whistler to the ordinary frankness of David Foster Wallace, artists whose aesthetic magnificence is coupled with an underlying sense of isolation.
Soft Fall sounds expensive. And that's a good thing. It's a luxurious album full of synths, samples, and strings with voluptuous curves and crushed velvet soundscapes. It expands logically on the sturdy foundation laid by Sun Airway's often overlooked 2010 debut, Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier.
Sun Airway make in-between music, floating somewhere in the middle of form and ambience, the conscious and the subliminal. Surface pleasures abound, melodies congregate near the front, but if you want to hear what most of us would consider a song, you're going to have to lean into it a bit. In this, they're certainly not alone; between the concrete-sweat synths of chillwave to the scuzzbucket lo-fi revival to all the post-Animal Collective gobbledigook we've seen since Merriweather Post Pavilion, there's all manner of music nowadays that seems to emphasize the sound of the song as much as or more than the song itself.
The lavish sound Jon Barthmus crafted on Sun Airway's 2010 debut, Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier, became more popular and widespread thanks to the releases of albums by kindred spirits such as M83, Neon Indian, and Beat Connection, and in turn, Barthmus goes even bigger and more polished on Soft Fall. Where Nocturne... was crafted largely in Barthmus' bedroom, this time he had a string quartet record arrangements based on chopped-up samples of classical music in one studio, a live band record in another studio, and enlisted the help of David Wrench to give it all a harmonious mix.
On a recent round of press Manics motormouth Nicky Wire complained that the Eno-produced Coldplay had 'conquered the world by sounding like fucking Enya. ' Given that, the grumpy bassman is unlikely to be tempted by Philadelphia's Sun Airway, whose second album takes Martin and co’s recent forays into Enya-esque soundscapery, plays down the histrionics and throws in an ocean of New Order keyboards and trippy percussion. The result is a borderline-landfill-indie take on what we were laughably calling chillwave (or glo-fi or washpop* or dreampsyche or wavegaze or ambi-pure** or lush-house or honeybeat or hushrock) for a mercifully brief time in 2010.
The soft psychedelia of Sun Airway always seems to dance at the edge of a cliff, never quite sure whether it’s going to flutter off like a flock of iridescent moths or plummet silently to the floor below. Unlike some acts, though, there’s no sense of giddy tension to this uncertainty, just knowledge that sometimes the pleasant experiments just flop. On Soft Fall, Sun Airway willfully step to the gap with one foot as they step away with the other.
Sun Airway released its debut album, Nocturne Of Exploded Crystal Chandelier, in 2010, as electro-synth indie music was hitting its acme. Keeping on trend, the Philadelphia duo of songwriter Jon Barthmus and Patrick Marsceill popped open a treasure chest of electronic neo-psychedelic songs. Hoping to dazzle listeners and reviewers with the album’s poetic lyrics and mind-bending but infectious sounds, Sun Airway instead battled a storm of criticism.