Review Summary: All these miles start with you.
If Arcade Fire’s Funeral
proved anything, it is that for an album to even have the slightest chance of being regarded as a modern classic, it must come out of the blocks ringing with the sort of startling, all-consuming clarity that only the most self-assured of bands tend to have. Similar runaway successes for bands like The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys seem to agree: Is This It
, for instance, was bathed in a confident, play-by-our-numbers-please swagger as it resolved itself into a thirty-six minute slab of garage rock goodness, whereas Arctic Monkeys’ Whatever People Say I Am…
burgeoned with the sort of casual articulacy that defied the band’s tender age. Dallas indie rock band Air Review may have technically needed two tries to get it right, but Low Wishes
, their first release under Velvet Blue/Spune Records, is the kind of album which will likely deserve every single accolade it receives from here on out.
While arguably lacking the irrepressible, hey-look-at-me-now
tendencies of the three cornerstone records mentioned earlier, Low Wishes
still shares several qualities with them. An immersive, seamless atmosphere that’s not explicitly modern or old permeates the entire record, while vocalist Douglas Hale’s lyrics are rife with an introspective, piercing beauty; in addition, there’s also an apparent willingness to hedge the band’s sound with influences that one typically doesn't expect to see on an indie rock record. Take, for instance, “America’s Son”, which introduces itself with folksy guitar leads and Hale’s bluegrass-tinged vocals; then there’s “Young”, which spends most of its runtime being dominated by waffly synthesizers before giving way to the kind of unabashed choral clapping that would not have sounded out of place on a pop album. In the hands of a less confident band all this might have turned out to be a right old mess, but Air Review seem to know exactly what they’re doing and leave no stone unturned in their quest to produce something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. “I sold my ashes for a vial of the truth,” sings Hale on the album’s title track, and you can just about see the glint in his eye.
Thematically, Low Wishes
captures a band obsessed with documenting the little grains of truth that turn up in the rigors of everyday life. “When we were kids we believed in everything,” is the thesis that opens “Rebels”, with Hale offering up the kind of damning indictment that hints at volumes of shattered dreams and disillusioned hearts. “There’s only one thing left to believe in now that we’re old,” he adds a split second later, before finally dropping the clincher: “And it’s the one thing I cannot ignore – that you’re always on my mind.” Yet the American singer-songwriter is quick to show that the passage of time can cut both ways, “Seven weeks of life is enough to call you mine,” he whispers on the mysteriously titled “H”, whereas “Low Wishes” features that embodiment of infinite hope: “All these miles start with you.” These instances of fine lyricism aside, it may be somewhat surprising to note that Hale’s standout performance on Low Wishes
actually appears on the song which arguably features the album’s most rudimentary lyrics. On the ghosting, corporeal “My Automatic” the vocalist infuses his lines with such a sublime beauty that it’s hard not to stop what you’re doing just so that you can free a hand to turn the volume up a little. “Feel my bones/See I have an unkempt soul,” begs the singer in a soothing dulcet tone. "Make it so no one knows/This is my automatic." Evidently, this not a band that will be content with merely being in cruise control.
Yet the really amazing thing about Low Wishes
is how it constantly demands your attention despite there being a complete absence of a natural break in tone across the album’s nine songs. A case in point is the title track, whose flourishing drumwork and taut, half-shouted vocals suggest that it should stand in stark contrast to the haunting “My Automatic”, yet when the two end up suffusing so effortlessly into each other on the album, it’s hard to disagree with the manner in which Air Review have chosen to stitch their songs together. Elsewhere, album closer “Animal” is so clearly designed to recycle perfectly into “Rebel” that the band might have just as well recorded themselves shouting “Now press repeat!” into the microphone at the end of the song. Low Wishes
also thrives on account of the sense of dignified isolation that lusher tracks like “Waiting Lessons” or “Animal” provide. On the former, dreamy key leads, their effect magnified tenfold by Justin Robinson’s cavernous drumwork, are allowed to rise and fall tantalizingly before trailing into a set of tingling guitar notes, while the synths that adorn the background of “Animal” wink and fade away from the listener like light from oncoming headlamps on the edges of a wet windshield. The end result is a listening experience that is at once both beautiful and lovestruck, yet harrowing and sincere.
In a year that will undoubtedly be chock-full of high quality releases in a matter of weeks, Air Review have already put out an early contender for best indie rock album of the year. Low Wishes
, while in all probability not quite like anything that you’ve ever heard before, does manage to retain an air of distinct and radiant familiarity which will grab irresistibly at you from start to finish. So let it be known, then, that the New Year has well and truly arrived.