Relient K
Air For Free


4.5
superb

Review

by instantradical USER (62 Reviews)
July 24th, 2016 | 90 replies


Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A competent blend of old and new, Air For Free is a thoroughly satisfying return to form.

Fall 2009 was an uneasy time, a confusing jumble of hope and disappointment. I was an exchange student in Japan, and in the middle of discovering that the change of scenery wasn’t an instant fix for my aspirations and discontent - and that there was no clear path between where I was and where I wanted to be.

In the midst of this, Relient K’s album Forget And Not Slow Down was released, and instantly became an essential piece of my soundtrack during my months in Japan. It represented a crucial progression for the band that first caught my ear with the immediately lovable and surprisingly profound Mmhmm, as they transcended their pop-punk roots. With a style more akin to indie rock, Forget was defined by heartache, resulting in a diverse and compelling album that’s been a favorite ever since.

From train rides toward Nara’s autumnal wonders to nighttime runs through the park, Forget’s sentiments paralleled my own. Here in 2016, we’re both in a much better place. Air For Free is a proper successor to Forget And Not Slow Down, after 2013’s underwhelming and forgettable Collapsible Lung. Relient K has jettisoned Lung’s slick pop in favor of a style that’s an organic progression from that of Forget.

Despite the pleasantly intricate sounds of Air For Free, this is Relient K’s slimmest incarnation yet, in which frontman Matt Theissen and guitarist Matt Hoopes are the only official members of the band (and fittingly so, since they’re the only constants in the group’s sixteen year career.) Sometimes, in order to progress, you have to give something up; I let go of Japan and found myself better off for it. But things are rarely so straightforward: Theissen found love and got married (a major factor in the sound and themes of the album, I’m sure), while Hoopes suffered a divorce. Life is rarely the straight upward trajectory we desire.

The best thing about Air For Free, though, is just how enjoyable the whole thing is. The band is having a blast, from start to finish. Opening track “Bummin’” is a summer-soaked slab of pop rock that works better than anything on Collapsible Lung, while “Local Construction” is a bouncy song that shows Relient K’s knack for capturing the energy of pop punk in a more intricate and dynamic style. On occasion a song like "Runnin'" evokes the group's pop punk past, but more often songs like the delightfully chaotic "Elephant Parade" push the band beyond anywhere they've been before.

Much of Air For Free’s sound is actually descended from a specific song: “Deathbed,” which closed out the otherwise by-the-numbers pop-punk of 2007’s Five Score And Seven Years Ago. It was easily the most ambitious song Theissen and company had ever attempted, a piano-driven odyssey of spectacular songwriting. About half the songs on Air For Free are written in this style, guided by Theissen’s piano, while Hoopes’ electric guitar paints color in his wake. Speaking of Hoopes, his guitar playing has never sounded better, with Air For Free being perhaps the first album that's really allowed him unrestrained creativity.

The group's growth is evident in “Man,” one of the album’s best songs, as it morphs from bouncy pop into punchy rock with unexpected dynamics. On top of that, it captures where the Matts are for much of this album: learning what it means to really grow up and push into maturity. One reason Collapsible Lung wasn’t well-received is because Relient K is a very honest band, and that record didn’t feel honest; fortunately, Air For Free skillfully fixes that problem. Songs like “Cat”, “God”, and “Marigold” successfully combine the playful spirit of the group’s earlier albums with where they’re at now.

The poppier songs on Air For Free work well and have a heart behind them that’s consistent with the rest of the album: like the title track, an enjoyable electronica-styled song that blends the group’s carefree impulses with the undercurrent of Christian spiritually that has always flowed through their music. “Mountaintop” is an album highlight that balances its joyful melodies with Hoopes’ creative guitar playing that gives the song the extra edge it needs. The only time Air For Free stumbles as Collapsible Lung did might be on “Empty House,” a beautiful song that suffers a bit from completely unnecessary autotune on Theissen’s vocals.

What might be most impressive about Air For Free is how it blends fresh, new sounds with older ones: for every ambitious track like “Elephant Parade” or “Runnin’”. there’s a song like “Sleepin’” or “Flower,” which are expansions of Forget And Not Slow Down’s most pensive moments. As good as the album is, especially considering its impressive size, there are a few missteps: the aforementioned autotune on “Empty House,” the musically awkward “Prodigal,” or “Cat” (which is a good song, but not as good as others on the album in this same style.) Fortunately, the variety of Air For Free contributes to an album that never lags in its hour-long runtime.

On Air For Free, the two Matts bring a fine balance of joy and melancholy borne from their experiences. The excellent “Heartache” closes out the album, a music and lyrical encapsulation of everything they’ve learned, as Theissen sings “Trying to find my own way / What if forever is better than never" / And maybe it's a sign / That I found my own way / I will not let my heart ache.” With its summery warmth and an impressive collection of diverse, well-crafted songs, Air For Free is a serious contender for Relient K’s best album. It's sure to delight long-time fans and likely attract a lot of new ones as well.



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user ratings (110)
Chart.
3.8
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
heyadam
July 24th 2016


2395 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Actually really looking forward to this. Cool review -- the theme of letting an album become the soundtrack in a foreign setting is all-to-real to me right now.



Have a #pos2016

Atari
Staff Reviewer
July 24th 2016


24372 Comments


Good review, liked the way u combined a personal and informative writing style. I wasn't expecting much from this album based on the singles, but I agree this has similarities to forget and not slow down. And the singles sound better within the context of the album

Digging: Gorguts - Colored Sands

instantradical
July 24th 2016


297 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I agree, Bummin' didn't make much of an impression until I actually heard it on the album. Look On Up (which I assume was recorded after the album was complete) is excellent as well.

BullettoBinary2
July 24th 2016


122 Comments


This is everything I could've wanted from a new Relient K album

trackbytrackreviews
July 24th 2016


3377 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Can't believe they went 7 years without making an album :[

ABjordanMM
July 24th 2016


1712 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Awesome review. I agree with pretty much everything here. This album feels like it has the perfect length, and that's saying a lot clocking in at about an hour.

silentstar
July 24th 2016


2526 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

> Can't believe they went 7 years without making an album :[



wait what do you mean? collapsible lung came out 3 years ago ...

Skoop
July 25th 2016


2083 Comments


I think that's the point.

heyadam
July 25th 2016


2395 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Really digging this. So happily surprised by this record

ABjordanMM
July 25th 2016


1712 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

As great as this album is, they really dropped the ball on what could have been a highlight of the record with empty house. That vocal effect just isn't needed, especially for the whole song.

heavygruff
July 25th 2016


1 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I'm gonna have to disagree with you guys... Long time fan here; like, I was bringing skittles and combos to their shows... It pains me to press play and not hear anything that gets my endorphins going in the slightest. If there was one thing I thought I could count on, it was that relient k would always release the perfect album at the perfect time. Bummin' is the best song on the album and effectively gave me blue balls after the rest of air for free didn't follow its lead. I guess it's true what they say; "all good things must come to an end." Even when referring to Relient K. I'll have to give the album it's deserved playthroughs throughout its cycle and hope that it grows on me. In the meantime I'll be spinning their classics. And collapsible lung is definitely one of my favorites; second only to mmhm.

Toondude10
July 25th 2016


13744 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"And collapsible lung is definitely one of my favorites; second only to mmhm."



I feel really sorry for you right now.

Digging: Devin Townsend - Empath

Toondude10
July 25th 2016


13744 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Definitely their best since FANSD. Elephant Parade reminds me of The Dear Hunter in a way.

ABjordanMM
July 25th 2016


1712 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

How could anyone think this is worse than CL.

ABjordanMM
July 25th 2016


1712 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

FANSD is best, but I could see this creepin' up.

trackbytrackreviews
July 25th 2016


3377 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I can't decide between FANSD and Mmhmm but right now this might be second to those

Toondude10
July 25th 2016


13744 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Five Score and Two Rights are both on the top for me. FANDS is third. This might be fourth.

Atari
Staff Reviewer
July 25th 2016


24372 Comments


Mmhmm and FANSD are probably my favorites. Anatomy of the Tongue and Cheek is pretty nostalgic/great as well. Honestly the only bad album they've done is collapsible lung

Tunaboy45
July 25th 2016


16712 Comments


good shit

Snide
July 25th 2016


7050 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Doesn't come anywhere close to Mmhmmm for me.

Why wasn't "Look On Up" on this? That song >>>>> Every other track on this.

I'm honestly pretty disappointed.



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