Airhead, ‘For Years’ – Album Review
Airhead’s debut full-length for R&S opens with ‘Wait.’ The track first appeared in 2012 on a 7-inch for R&S and helped catapult U.K. producer Rob McAndrews to the label's A-team. ‘Wait’ remains unlike anything R&S -- or the London dance music community at large -- has produced, what with its spacious folk and post-rock(!) underpinnings, not to mention its pristine left-brained production, which felt more jigsaw puzzle than U.K. garage.
‘For Years’ arrives just over a year later and finds Airhead bouncing from traditional U.K. dance molds to his more experimental, organically grown sample-and-beat collages in equal measure. ‘For Years’’s instrumental pallet can still be every bit as eclectic and foreign as what was found on ‘Wait,’ stringing together rainy synths, autumn-toned guitar plucks and rustic vocal samples, but on tracks like ‘Mikola Bottle’ and ‘Pyramid Lake,’ McAndrews isn’t above making his way back to the city.
It’s probably telling that the aforementioned tracks are arguably the weakest on the record. ‘For Years’ is at its best when it’s crawling through deciduous forest underbrush and bathed in sunbeams. 'Callow' combines a glimmering wall of synths with a trudging snare drum and wistful female vocals that sound like someone sing-humming to themselves while washing the dishes. As on ‘Wait,’ Airhead offsets the all-natural quality of the track with a subtle touch of naked laptop programming, embellishing the kick drum and pouring in a line of chittering synths.
It is a bit of bummer to see Airhead largely foregoing the structural wonders of tracks like ‘Wait’ and its equally excellent B-side, ‘South Congress,’ but McAndrews makes up for it with subtlety. The first half of ‘Azure Race’ is nothing but submerged synth textures and some ghostly voices, building, morphing and subsiding until it all congeals and a jerky snare crashes in. 'Autumn' might be the record’s standout. Pairing twinkling fingerpicking with a subtly synthesized vocal, the song hovers on a singular rhythmic stomp before giving way to some gorgeous wordless harmonies.
The thing about ‘For Years’ is it isn’t fussy. It’s the kind of record you might throw on on rainy afternoon or a chilly night in. And apart from ‘Wait,’ it doesn’t seek to draw attention to itself. Airhead has been one of the most promising producers of the last few years with his log-cabin take on garage, and for its subtle beauty and understated production chops, ‘For Years’ is one of the more impressive electronic full-lengths of 2013. It’s a worthy debut.