Most would agree that it’s wildly unrealistic to expect everyone to love or even like the achievements people spend time and great effort to create. Polarization is healthy when it comes to art, though, and indifference is the enemy. Indifference murders inspiration and inventiveness.
Air is a polarizing record for a few reasons. A quick jump to the Blood Music bandcamp page to read the reaction comments for the album could be enough to twist skivvies for ancient black metal soreheads who approach “blackgaze” as tentatively as some might a 7-11 cheeseburger hotdog. Attaching a black metal tag, as some are inclined to do, to Astronoid’s sound is flawed, however, so it’s probably best to just go with what the band elects to call themselves: “Dream thrash.” Our genre tags are becoming more and more mystifying as the lines continue to soften.
“Hey, do you like death metal?”
“You bet! I’m listening to Tom Waits right now!”
For many, arguing genre semantics is as interesting as a two hour keynote address at a paper clip convention, but we still do it, probably because it’s easy. Plus, at the least, metal’s obsession with infinite organization affords the listener some clue as to what they’re about to walk into. In the case of Air, comparisons suggesting a dreamy Curve convergence with a more assertive Devin Townsend paints an accurate picture.
If I had to describe Air in four easy words, I’d go with “aggressively ethereal and encouraging.” Air sounds like the musical accompaniment for two beaming parents watching their child graduate magna cum laude from Vacation Bible School. The reaction to actually SEEING your spacecraft tailing Hale-Bopp just before pulling the purple sheet over your head. Air is the sort of metal album a kid might quick-draw if they suddenly needed to mollify parents who recently stumbled across a copy of Massive Conspiracy Against All Life squirreled away in the closet. The last time I encountered relentless positivity such as this, I was living in Salt Lake City and tacked a laminated photocopy of Leprosy to my door in hopes of discouraging the persistent LDS bombardment.
“Up and Atom” hits with a repeating sklip-sklap-a-doop-boop riff that comes across like a speedy methmetal interpretation of the hook in Human League’s “Fascination,” and the galloping joy swells like the heart of a teen who just found a “I like you 2” note dropped inside their locker.
“Resin” should henceforth be referred to as “Rudy,” because some over-achieving motherfuckers are bound to be carried off the gridiron on the shoulders of giants to the sounds of this jubilant ditty. GO, NUMBER 45, GO!!! RESIN! RESIN! RESIN! RESIN!
Hip youth ministers across the country will pile troubled souls into Kia Souls to the glittering, tremoloing tune of “Tin Foil Hats” pealing from their open windows.
JOY. “The sun shines on my faaaaaaace.”
Wait… Joy is GOOD. Joy should be celebrated. This is what Astronoid intended. What’s wrong with me. And of course, who’s to say that just because I can’t help picturing glittering angel gifs and Heaven’s Gate that someone else won’t use the hurtling bliss of Air as a soundtrack to real-life goodness, like nailing that Airbnb job interview, or riding bikes in the summer while butterflies tug at your curled moustache. It’s all a matter of perspective. One man’s cult is another man’s salvation.
Curious to me, however, is the fact that I enjoy the core components of Astronoid – aggressiveness, reverie and joy – but the sum of those parts via this technique ends up petting across the grain. Crabbiness aside, I’m not such a prick that I don’t recognize talent. The musicianship throughout this record is top-shelf, particularly the drumming, and the production is absolutely glorious. I had a starry-eyed Friday Night Lights moment in the midst of the exquisite lead in “Homesick” during a recent run, but I nearly tripped into the bumper of a parked car when I checked my player and saw the predictable song title. And holy Lord, calling the album’s softest number “Violence” is more transparent than a cloaked Romulan warbird. One step forward, two steps back.
“Obsolete” is a life preserver – an all around sharpened song that breaks up the insistence on repetitive misty & merry galloping with the album’s clearest nod to Cynic‘s busyness and complexity. It could use a break from those celestial android vocals, though. Still, it’s the belle of this heavenly ball, and I wish the band would sprinkle more of that flavor on future works.
To summarize: Astronoid play aggressively dreamy music, and you are probably a grumpy peckerhead if you can’t enjoy their charm. And by “you,” I mostly mean me, because plenty of people are already enjoying the living hell out of this thing.
However you choose to categorize Air – blackgaze, dream thrash, American Apparel metal, whatever – the band gets credit for doing something elegant and breaking our genre’s impressive obsession with negativity without urging modern metal fans to face an alternative such as (the TRUE glory that is) power metal. I just wish this record didn’t make me feel like the head of The Illustrious Prophet was floating two inches away from my face with an open-mouth grin every time I spin it.
Enjoy your ascension.