Music Reviews
Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier

Sun Airway Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier

(Dead Oceans) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Belonging to Philadelphia’s booming independent rock scene, Sun Airway have made a name for themselves by implementing the more sonically charged branch of pop music. Bored of making guitar chords the center of their sound with past groups, main songwriter Jon Barthmus shifted this more conventional approach by painting electronic strokes without forgetting the rewards that come from building structured pieces of songcraft. Bringing member Patrick Marsceill along for the ride, attention quickly grew after they spruced up intriguing remixes of hotly-tipped acts such as Delorean, Here we Go Magic, and Caribou.

Usually, when artists decide to renovate their artistic stance, they increase their degree of danger because such experiments come off as half-hearted and imprudent. Contrary to what such a foundation might dictate, Sun Airway’s first full effort sounds too sure of itself. It resonates too deceptively confident, as if Barthmus kept his electronic endowment silent all these years. In theory, they’re not really stepping into new territory, taking the blissful sounds of hazy pop and inverting those with an array of processed sounds and sampled melodies. Comparisons to Merriweather Post Pavilion have come up and with good reason: Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier beams like a celebratory encounter between oddity and freedom, looping little joyful moments and spiraling them into an otherworldly spectrum of wonder. 

Sun Airway just about fill a cloud of atmospheric synth tones from beginning to end, yet it never becomes a hindrance because they prefer coming on as an actual band than an engineering duo. Most impressive is the fact that they achieve warmth through such a plasticky exterior. Nocturne is in every practical sense a manufactured patchwork of computer-generated instrumentation with hardly an analogous product in sight. American West functions as a fitting example of carefully mingling with multi-layered synths without discarding pop’s everlasting template. Straight-ahead pop hooks are always the norm, dictating the chorus over mechanized drumbeats and danceable new wave tactics. Other times, they’re all about filling the room with beautiful sound echoes - take Swallowed in the Night, which takes a rhythmic breather by limiting the palette to Barthmus’ harmonized vocals and a wash of blissful, starry haze.

Since Nocturne is structured like an indie pop record, many of the songs glisten because they leave headway for the choruses to achieve their engaging moments, a task they couldn’t have achieved had they focused on exclusively making droning electronic music. They certainly take a cue from electro-pop darlings the Postal Service, especially since most of the synth lines sound too clean and most of the effects come close to literally sounding just like bleeps and bloops. Actors veers dangerously close to the former duo’s preset synths and tinny vocals, restraining any variety to achieve subtlety. In the elliptical tribal groove of Waiting for You, Barthmus shares similarities with Ezra Koenig’s spoken word/reggae-tinged vocal delivery, which comes off as gracefully charming alongside the Afro-pop angle. Bartmus’ playful attempts never come off as brassy or awkward, limiting his vocal range up to where the intrinsic nature of the songs carries him.

Nocturne does exhaust its limitless possibilities around its last few tracks, especially when it opts to mirror some of the earlier songs but with new gimmicks to disguise them. Deciding to modulate an Asian timbre or 808 handclaps feels more complacent than inventive, especially when the previous soaring effects suddenly derail towards an obfuscated finale. Respectably, Sun Airway do constantly challenge themselves by taking the unexplored route of achieving sturdy compositions through electronic textures, especially in a time when house and nu-rave are fast becoming indie’s current electronic touchstones. They aren’t just rejoicing their hard work, but also to the merit of achieving a truly cohesive experience.