When the guy from Sun Airway sings, “Waking up is an exercise in trust” Saturday night at Glasslands, it’s difficult to tell whether it's one of the saddest lines I've ever heard or one of the happiest. It's sung tepidly, but with a faraway look in his eye, over bleary keyboards and a circular clicking loop that slowly climbs through the course of the song until the band goes totally berserk for the last 30 seconds, splintering off in a hundred different directions. It comes at the end of a set whose other highlight was a song that repeatedly rhymed “moon shine” with “wind chime,” from an album called Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier, from a band who wields a guitar embossed with glossy birds and butterflies. In short, Sun Airway's music is whimsical and romantic — there are a lot of light projections on Saturday, and at one point bells make an appearance — and comes packaged in floaty electro-pop whose go-to reference, Merriweather Post Pavilion, is pretty much on point, though it might be worth noting that the bulk of Nocturne was written prior to MPP's release.
Here’s the thing, though. The guy who’s singing? He looks like the type you’d want to bring home to mom, (almost) clean shaven, with neatly trimmed hair and a buttoned-down shirt. Same goes for those backing him on additional synth/laptop, drums, bass and guitar. It’s not terribly important how the five of them are dressed, of course, but it does emphasize how there is something wholly un-Animal Collective about them too, despite all the hazy effects, the cascading ripples, the bubbling glitches, and the psych-tinged swirls. In a voice that I'll go ahead and compare to Chris Martin's again, Jon Barthmus' vocal melodies are evenly poured over the multiple moving parts, giving the songs a certain weight — part of the reason why they always seem to muddle the line between happy and sad.
Through the course of the show, no one sounds impossibly blissed-out like Panda Bear or yelps like Avey, but there is still an undeniable current of energy. For one, you can feel this guy's voice reaching. For another, the melodies are instantly danceable, and adding guitar and bass to what is on record a two-man synth-drum band allows for all the buildups on the album to finally see a release, in traditional rock-out mode. Animal Collective for the everyman? Maybe so. In a review of their set at the #Offline Fest this fall, Jeff Klingman wrote, "This shit is going to catch on, like, for sure." Seriously, what's taking so long?
...And on that note, you can catch them February 25 opening for Small Black at Knitting Factory before they make their way to Austin for SXSW.
See? Happy, sad, whimsical, romantic: