Anglo-Swedish indie trio with a penchant for big choruses release their debut album.
Johnny Sharp 2012
While the likes of Shed Seven managed expectations before anyone heard their music, thanks to the workaday connotations of their name, when you call yourself Air Castles you’re already suggesting a dose of epic transcendence, if not the full out-of-body experience.
Yet the 80s-style synth stabs and staccato tom-tom beat that open this group’s debut album suggest a more idiosyncratic listen is on the cards. As it turns out, this London trio, led by Swedish-born songwriter Max Mansson, seem to want to keep one foot in the cosy indie bedsit and one in the stadium of broken dreams. We’ve already witnessed both of these facets of their character by the time the first arms-wide-open, windswept cliff-top chorus is cracked open, just before the minute mark.
It’s a sign of things to come, as they continue to make the leap back and forth between diffident, knock-kneed verses, full of emotional insecurity and weedy keyboards, and big, booming, emotive hooks shot through with the promise of redemption through the healing power of song. Holding it all together is a vocal style that will be familiar to fans of indie pop of a certain stripe. Mansson’s vaguely sighing, soft-focus croon speaks of lovelorn emotional sensitivity and bespectacled thoughtfulness, echoing Mark Gardener of Ride’s dreamy gasps of longing, or Gary Lightbody’s breathy delivery on one of Snow Patrol’s yearning ballads.
Speaking of whom, the combination of self-effacing introspection allied to a gift for broad musical strokes reminds you of SP’s pre-Run material, especially on the beautiful ballad So Far From Home. Falling to Pieces benefits from another beguiling sing-along passage which tells of "the same old mistakes, same old regrets". Walking on Sunshine it isn’t, then, but indie kids with a sweet tooth for melody and a strong stomach for self-pity will lap this up.
That said, the anthemic pudding is a little over-egged on the stomping Worlds Apart. Air Castles fare better on the stripped-down, acoustically inclined City Song, a tale of insomnia that becomes increasingly likeable on repeated listens, at which point you also notice the delicately resonant piano solo closing it out.
So they can do subtlety and still make those hooks stick – it’ll be interesting to see which path Air Castles take from here.