Sun Airway released its debut album, Nocturne Of Exploded Crystal Chandelier, in 2010, as electro-synth indie music was hitting its acme. Keeping on trend, the Philadelphia duo of songwriter Jon Barthmus and Patrick Marsceill popped open a treasure chest of electronic neo-psychedelic songs.
Hoping to dazzle listeners and reviewers with the album’s poetic lyrics and mind-bending but infectious sounds, Sun Airway instead battled a storm of criticism. Reviewers gave the band a lot of flack for sounding too much like Animal Collective, even though Sun Airway had written the songs for Nocturne in 2008, a year before the release of the seminal Merriweather Post Pavilion. Undaunted, Sun Airway has reemerged with its sophomore album, Soft Fall. While Nocturne‘s sounds were saturated in dark tones and heavy textures, Soft Fall’s songs feature dreamy and bright qualities not included in Sun Airway’s debut album.
When glazing over the tracklisting, you’ll notice a series of instrumental “Activity” songs, which the band uses to set up album “acts.” The ambient “Activity 1″ serves as a transition for the two albums. Comparatively, “Activity 2″ exemplifies the album’s auditory theme in full swing and functions as a midway, fusing sporadic synthesizer samples against a low piano riff and string melody. “Activity 3″ signals the near end of the album, combining the record’s use of erratic string samples playing off of one another over a bittersweet synth beat.
Alongside the varied instrumental tracks, Sun Airway offers a large selection of pop-influenced songs that make up the album. The song “Wild Palms” epitomizes Barthmus’s lyrical craft on Soft Fall. “Once lost and now divine delivered/Something to find/You’re always something to find,” he tiredly croons above the asymmetric string melodies and synthesizer samples.
Aside from the solemn, heartfelt messages, the album also has an electro-dance feel. Songs like the beat-happy “Black Noise,” the uptempo “Be Everywhere” and even the titular track seep into your body, bouncing around until you feel numb, loose and unable to resist a shoulder shimmy. These tracks are what help make the album such an improvement on Nocturne Of Exploded Crystal Chandelier. The debut album’s songs gave the listener no emotional release, confining them to the dark feeling of the album’s origin: Barthmus’s bedroom. On Soft Fall, Sun Airway’s songwriter happily leads the listeners out of the bedroom to the streets, with its lighthearted and ethereal sounds that make you feel weightless and worry-free.
Although once again trailing Animal Collective, who recently released Centipede Hz, Sun Airway has effectively separated itself from any similarities to the new distorted sounds of Avey Tare and Panda Bear. Rather than engulf you in chaos and animalistic textures as AnCo has done, Sun Airway offers a blanket of emotional sanctuary, a religious experience to breathe and soak in your surroundings. Sun Airway may be losing some of its psychedelic characteristics that attracted many of its original fans, but the new sounds allow its lyrical creativity and musical experimentation to grow without confinement.