Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
There are reasons to think otherwise, but it would be easy to assume that Patrick Marsceill and Jon Barthmus reached into the sack of self-medicating products a while ago and then keeping reaching back into the seemingly bottomless bag, unawares of what they might pull out this time, just knowing that it would do some kind of trick. One could believe that two men who would name their new band's album, "Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier," have been very rarely not under the influence, or over the influence, but really, what we hear on Sun Airway's debut record are two men with a headlock on the kind of music they were born to be making and perhaps it just took some time to bring it out - though that's not at all fair to the music they were making before. But we digress. It's this Sun Airway record that we should be breathlessly chattering about - not just you and I here in front of a screen - but most everyone as it's a fully realized album that satisfies so many of our artistic cravings all at once. It gives us line upon line of literature, finely crafted prose, chopped and made into songs that could easily stand alongside sturdy examples of the printed word. Lead singer Barthmus cites the following in his liner note thank yous: Haruki Murakami, Dylan Thomas, Cormac McCarthy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Kurt Vonnegut, J.D. Salinger, David Foster Wallace and John Updike (the latter four because they all passed away during the writing of the record). Reading the list makes one feel like he's making a mistake for reading Jonathan Franzen right now when there's so much of this other stuff that he's leaving to wait on-deck, but given 20 years, perhaps Franzen will keep this same company. Barthmus is elbows-deep in the volumes of the great American masters and Murakami and he seems like he might be absorbing them, investing himself in what they have to say because he's becoming quite the apprentice. It gives us an oil painting, one that's still wet on the wall. The beats and grooves that "Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier" snakes through its veins are those that we can pull with us with our fingers, letting them mix and blend and become something that we intended, not something that was intended for us. The album runs without a silent break, but instead, from one song to the next is this blurring of the colors and a hiss of distorted running waters, bringing us along, letting us feel as if we're getting swallowed by these holy sounds. It gives us graceful dance in the form of pristine rhythm, combining the electronic thrills that Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello gave us with the Postal Service album, lo those many years ago, or those that Gibbard gave us even before then with his just-as-excellent All-Time Quarterback material and the brainy lyrics of Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig, only with more starlight in their eyes. Barthmus sings of moonless nights, but the darkness that he speaks of sounds as if it smells and feels like mint and a warm spring rain, or the ground and sidewalks just afterward, with worm guts providing an earthy fragrance. He makes it seem like a real chore to get through from one day to the next, hinting at the difficulty of taking in a breath, "just to let it out again," to stay alive, or not die, whichever is easiest. He also sings on "American West," "Even the darkest night needs an ally/Against the morning light/And every word my lips suggest/That's between my lips and the American west," letting us believe that these words are the property and the privilege of the open terrain, where all of the colors are still wet, waiting for our wheels and fingers and soles to mess them up however we'd like to.