Airbag – A Day at the Beach album review

9 05 2020

A Day at the Beach is the 5th album from Norwegian band Airbag, and is their first studio album in 4 years.

A Day at the Beach features six new songs inspired by the resurgence of 1980s electronica, new wave and movie scores, whilst still retaining the band’s progressive rock leanings.

The album was produced by Asle Tostrup and Bjørn Riis, and befitting the musical content, is lovingly mastered by Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow / The Opium Cartel).

Machines And Men acts as a bridge between the progressive rock sound of Identity and Disconnected and a more electronic 2020 direction for Airbag. Guitars give way to Tangerine Dream / New Order referencing synths, but don’t worry, Bjørn Riis is still a strong presence throughout the album. As with all Airbag releases, there is a heavy use of textures, and peaks and flows to keep your attention and hit you emotionally. I particularly love the drum treatments on Machines And Men.

A Day at the Beach (Part 1) is an absolute joy. Decaying guitars and deep bass underpin piano and mid-period Porcupine Tree like synth swirls to deliver one of the most atmospheric pieces on the album.

Into The Unknown continues in a similar, albeit longer vein. The synth riff driving the intro has an 80s Drive soundtrack feel, and the neon pulse and achingly personal lyrics make the track an album highlight. The guitars from Bjørn Riis are restrained but all the more powerful as the track builds, and the drums kick in with a second half that will appeal to Pink Floyd and Prog fans.

Sunsets is one of the biggest surprises on the album,. Opening with an off-kilter drum pattern, and then heading in an almost post-punk direction, with a John McGeoch (Siouxsie & The Banshees / Magazine) guitar sound, before switching to a more traditional Airbag chorus.

The insistent bassline on Sunsets works well with the heavily processed guitar on the verses, and we are treated to a quality Bjørn Riis guitar solo at the half-way mark. Again, the use of textures and ever-mutating arrangements keep your interest piqued throughout.

Listen to an edit of Sunsets below.

A Day At The Beach (Part 2) dials the electronica back into sharper focus, with an pulse-led instrumental conclusion to the song that premiered earlier on in the album sequence.

A Day at the Beach is such a good headphones album, and I cannot wait to hear it played loud through speakers when I receive my vinyl copy in June.

The album closes with Megalomaniac, a slow-building guitar piece that suddenly falls away and then rises powerfully to see the album to it’s conclusion.

“You always get what you want…”

I am a huge fan of electronic music, as well as a lot of progressive rock, and I love it when the two genres intertwine as they do on this album. A Day at the Beach has been a long time coming, but is one of the highlights in Airbag’s catalogue of fine studio albums. The band may have lost two members but they have opened up the possibilities of what they can achieve and how they can tell their stories.

Machines And Men
A Day at the Beach (Part 1)
Into The Unknown
Sunsets
A Day At The Beach (Part 2)
Megalomaniac

Buy A Day at the Beach on CD from Amazon

Buy A Day at the Beach on CD from Burning Shed

Buy A Day at the Beach clear vinyl from Burning Shed

Buy Bjørn Riis A Storm Is Coming CD on Amazon

Buy Bjørn Riis Forever Comes To An End CD on Amazon

Buy Bjørn Riis Lullabies In A Car Crash CD on Amazon





The Opium Cartel – Valor album review

2 05 2020

The Opium Cartel is songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jacob Holm-Lupo’s vehicle for songs that exist somewhere between pop, art-rock and synth pop, and away from his more progressive work with White Willow.

Valor is the third Opium Cartel album, and is set to be released on June 5 2020 on Apollon Records.

In the Streets sets the scene for an album that will appeal to those who love pop and progressive music from the 80s (The Blue Nile, Roxy Music, early Talk Talk, Bill Nelson, Alan Parsons Project) as well as current bands such as neon-pop heavy-hitters The Midnight. An optimistic and innocent track, the album opener is stacked to the brim with analogue synths (not a VST in sight, baby) and is wonderfully serenaded out by an uplifting sax refrain from Ilia Skibinsky.

Slow Run sounds like a hazy summer evening, and a hint of regret is starting to seep into the lyrics.

“This is not the same town, that we left behind”

The first of two instrumental pieces, A Question of Re-entry, features the moving guitar of Airbag’s Bjørn Riis, and is driven by the analogue synth pads and pulsating solos of Holm-Lupo.

Nightwings features the studio debut of Jacob’s daughter, Ina A, who effortlessly slips in to the albums sonic palette, delivering an assured modern pop vocal performance. Nightwings has a slight hint of mid-80s The Cure in its arrangement, and will surely appeal to lovers of the Stranger Things and San Junipero soundtracks.

Fairground Sunday is my favourite track on the album, and one of the few times I am reminded of Holm-Lupo’s White Willow catalogue. The music evokes the beauty of wide open spaces, with crystal clean fresh air and sharp starry skies, but is also under-pinned with a darker sub-current that reveals itself on subsequent plays.

Under Thunder has a wonderful Alan Murphy / Experiment IV (Kate Bush) referencing guitar riff and some of the most inventive rhythm arrangements on the album.

The Curfew Bell is one of the album’s darker, more gothic pieces. Heavily reverb-infused drums and rich strings, plus Gaelic sounding multi-tracked vocals from Leah Marcu (Tillian) lead into another instrumental piece featuring Bjørn Riis, A Maelstrom of Stars, that ups the Pink Floyd / prog ante a few notches. Some fine mellotron lines, plus one of the deepest bass synth sounds ever committed to tape, push to the fore on the tracks outro.

The CD ends with a bonus track, a cover of Ratt’s 1988 song What’s It Gonna Be, with Alexander Stenerud on vocals. With the hair-metal of the original track shorn, The Opium Cartel’s take is more akin to A-ha than Europe. I swear I can heard the sound of Fairlight stabs buried deep in the mix, or maybe that was just wishful thinking. And is that a nod to Don’t Fear The Reaper at the end?

Valor sounds like a love-song to the 80s, which of course means the album sounds very current and feels extremely accessible. The down-side is that straight after playing the album, you will find yourself desperately searching for your dusty old VHS copies of The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and The Lost Boys. I hope you enjoy the album.

In the Streets
Slow Run
A Question of Re-entry
Nightwings
Fairground Sunday
Under Thunder
The Curfew Bell
A Maelstrom of Stars
What’s It Gonna Be



Buy The Opium Cartel – Valor on Amazon

Buy The Opium Cartel – Ardor

Buy The Opium Cartel – Night Blooms








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