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Breath of Fresh Air
Steve Carter | Photo: Kelsey Foster | April 1, 2013
A Dallas band’s second album, Low Wishes, could just be the local hit of the year.
It’s rare when an album, a collection of songs, coheres into a greater gestalt—a unified, amplified whole, a statement that bookmarks the here-now-and-why of the artist behind the work. But such is the case with Low Wishes, the achingly beautiful second outing from Dallas’ indie-pop-folktronica quintet Air Review (airreview.net). For months now, two stellar tracks, “America’s Son” and “Young,” have been familiar, welcome contagions on local airwaves, but those earworms only hint at the promise the album delivers. With Low Wishes, the band has evolved a proprietary sonic palette, a poignant mix of acoustic intimacy, lush electronica, layers of vocals and propulsive percussion. The album represents a coming-into-its-own triumph for Air Review as a band, a musical cooperative without a trace of individual ego. Throughout, the music comes first, with arrangements and production unwaveringly sympathetic to advancing a particular song’s artistic imperative.
Air Review formed in 2008, but without a clear sense of musical identity. The group’s 2009 debut, Landmarks, had a Brit-pop sensibility, and they’ve since distanced themselves from the work. Eventually, reinvention seemed inevitable, and the quintet, all its members in their early 30s, “hibernated” for a year, rehearsing, exploring and rediscovering its musical North Star. Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Doug Hale explains: “When I brought ‘America’s Son’ to the band, that song incorporated more electronic elements with the folk; I think we all heard something special about that sound. It was a launching pad, a catalyst to push us in a certain direction for the album.” The band’s creative ethos is genuinely collaborative, as multiinstrumentalist Richard Carpenter attests: “What’s unique about this band, the lesson I’ve learned, is that being a collaborator doesn’t mean you actually have real estate on the song. … It means stepping away and allowing somebody else to fully express what needs to be expressed.”
Low Wishes was produced by the band, with bassist Jeff Taylor engineering. A key component of the album’s soundscaping is its marked, consistent contrasts—arrangements suddenly thinning dramatically, or building to large “arrival” moments. Dynamic shifts play a key role as well, and four-on-the-floor kick drum drives many of the proceedings. The group’s vocals are a huge asset, and Hale seems to wear his voice on his sleeve, right next to his heart. “It was written at a time in my life where I’m looking back, realizing that I have a lot more questions than I have answers,” Hale muses. “The older you get, I think that comes with the territory.”