Rob McAndrews has been silently bubbling up since the start of the decade. As Airhead, some of his first records came out as collaborations with the now global star James Blake and for the last two and half years he has toured alongside Blake as his live guitarist, all while piecing together emotive and acoustically informed electronic music. The first taste of Airhead as we know him came in the form of “Wait,” his first single for R&S Records. There, he explored the ear-churning possibilities of combining his often staccato strumming with the intricacy and restraint of his electronic arrangements and beats. He followed that up with an even more abstract single, “Pyramid Lake,” which included fidgety low-end movements and haunting synths. These teasers had people on edge for a full length, which he has finally delivered with For Years, a 10-song album that’s well suited for home listening.
First and foremost McAndrews is a musician and that’s blatantly obvious on the bulk of this record. He has an ear for arrangement and it’s rare for a track to aimlessly meander through the space he has created. However, he’s not bound by the rules of traditional composition and often veers off the path on tracks such as “Fault Line,” which ditches pop arrangement for house-like repetition. In the same way that James Blake’s self-titled (and many others from the same crop of producers) did not fit into one category neatly, neither does For Years.
McAndrews experiments with many facets of electronic music, never quite sticking to one. The waves created by Aphex Twin in the mid ’90s can be felt on “Masami,” which experiments with the sonic potency of space and the grand simplicity of a guitar pluck. The strength of space and silence cannot be overstated on this album. At the same time, I can’t help but draw a line between the hushed and vocal-led “Autumn” and last year’s “Howling” from Ry And Frank Wiedemann. Both utilize a singer-songwriter structure and see that the producers take a more traditional approach. It’s one the album’s highlights, showing how adept McAndrews is at writing what is essentially a pop song. Many artists spend years trying to figure out how to meld their weird brand of electronics with pop music, but McAndrews has a natural propensity for it.
It’s not all roses though. Where this album suffers is in progression. It’s highly enjoyable and in no way an easily digested full length, but in the last few years much of what he is exploring has been beaten to death; in that sense it feels dated. There’s nothing wrong with building on those textures, however from his background to the musicianship present on this album to the company he keeps, he is capable of so much more. This may not be as exciting as people expected, but it’s detailed, coherent, and worth a spin. What’s more is if this is how Airhead’s first full length sounds, his second holds a lot of promise.