Thursday, December 15, 2011

AIRS "GLOOMLIGHTS" (Music Ruins Lives)

Exhaustive double album of post-shoegaze and severe hyper-overloaded guitar destructionism, almost too dense to listen to the entire thing in one sitting. The emphasis here is on the awesome power of fuzz, its disassociative properties and penchant for utter terror as well as its capacity for star-scarring moments of emotional reflection and resonance. Airs wears their heart on their sleeve throughout "Gloomlights" and if weren't so earnestly heavy throughout i'd laugh it off as nothing more than isolationist introspectionism masquerading as high art; the fact that it bears such a strong resemblance to music i've made myself forces me to reconsider the emotional origin and assess it as nothing less than personal exorcism through the idea of music.
Airs betrays a certain accessibility that a lot of modern bedroom black metallers won't give in to; the main influences here are actually "Siamese Dream" era Smashing Pumpkins, and, from a more current angle, Silversun Pickups. While i'm on the one hand loathe to reference SSP, on the other i feel like i'd be critically lax if i didn't make note of how heavily "Gloomlights" relies on that particular aesthetic to arrive at its sound. The vocals especially seem evocative of SSP, channeling Brian Aubert's syrupy androgynous whispers into a smothering mess of impassioned confessionals. I've heard Airs referred to as a black metal outfit, which i find to be a woefully inept genre classification, even compared to drone-gazers like Clair Cassis and Lonesummer. This is shoegaze through and through-subclassify it as neo- or post-, but either way the touchstones here are the guitar onslaughts of MBV and Slowdive with a dash of Billy Corgans's perfectionist overdubbing thrown in for good measure. The songs are beautiful, haunting even, capable of prompting gooseflesh in a more introspective or vulnerable state; the layers and layers of endless guitar promote a sort of infinite downward spiral into quagmires of sorrow and self-hate, reflection turned inward towards an inevitable personal disgust and regret. Sadness lurks in every shadow, and Airs make it their mission to shed light on each and every one of those distant pockets of moribund consideration, a cloudy evocation of anxiety and dislocation that picks at the outward feelings accompanying depression and melancholia.
For all its weight, though, "Gloomlights" remains strikingly distant, a piece of art that perfectly captures the feelings of sadness without actually inhabiting them. For me a lot of it rests with the vocals-they're so nearly joyous and singsong that even raging moments like the thrash posturing of "Caves" or the entire earth-shattering gravity of the second disc ring a little hollow. I have a hard time buying the actuality of the desperation without it being translated into sound of the sorts found in more extreme black metal. In that sense Airs' black metal posturing (there are a number of processed blastbeats throughout "Gloomlights") seems more than a bit insincere; i find it difficult to accept in the same way as if Billy Corgan had announced to the world that he'd be focusing his efforts on a black metal album. It's interesting but ultimately doomed because it just doesn't belong in that world. Maybe that's why Airs' flirtation with genre identity bothers me so much. You can co-opt all the signatures of extreme music but if what you're doing isn't actually extreme enough to warrant those affectations, then your output is going to ring hollow with those who know.
Beyond such superficial complaints, "Gloomlights" is an excellent record, worthy of far more than the mere 50 copies released by Music Ruins Lives (if it makes you feel better, i don't have one either-thought i'd like to.) This is the sort of stuff that can change lives if the situation is dire enough-i have no problem seeing this set as the soundtrack to someone's suicide, much in the same way i view the output of Have A Nice Life. Have A Nice Life is a far more harrowing listening experience, but "Gloomlights" isn't far behind; the inner turmoil depicted throughout place it in that special category of people trying to figure out why the fuck they're still clinging to life, hoping there's something beyond simply getting up and making it through another day.
The guitar sounds alone validate this record for me. They're so unbelievably huge it makes me envious, especially considering how simple the recoding setup must have been. I can get lost in the swarms of tones; it's a literal maelstrom of sound. My ears were physically sore by the end of the second disc. But i wouldn't change any part of this record. I wouldn't cut anything, or edit a single second out. The exhaustion becomes part of the message-that fatigue, that wearing down, that feeling of not knowing whether you can actually take any more-all of that is important here, echoing a deeper theme of disappointment and malaise. There's a triumph here, too, but it's in the sense of creativity emerging victorious over banality. Everything else is secondary-the act of birthing something new and colorful and explosive into the world is sacrosanct. In that sense perhaps "Gloomlights" is an affirmation, a commentary on more adult themes than the question of unrequited love and its accompanying difficulties. Maybe the crushing bulk of the material on disc two is getting at something more elusive, the agonizing weight of adulthood come to call. We spend our lives avoiding it, denying it, running from it. I used to say that growing up was the equivalent of giving up. At 32, i'm not sure how close i feel to that statement anymore. I know there's still a lot about the expectations of adulthood that upset me, and sadden me, and frighten me, but at the same time i am so disgusted looking at the "next generation" that i can't help but wonder if some maturity isn't a good thing. I hear that same sort of division in Airs' music; the vestige of adulthood caught up in the indulgence of youth. Where do you go from here? Is the answer total removal, suicide? Can deeper reflection only lead to emptiness? What the fuck have you been doing with all of your time?
These are my considerations across the expanse of "Gloomlights." The title seems strangely apt. Life is like a haze, a fog, an unclear mirror. You think you can see yourself in it, but it's a distorted, reflected view-someone else looking in becomes your prism for self-consideration. There's a distance and a mirage-like quality to what you're immersed in, and that loss of self becomes ever more troubling, perplexing, and disengaging. At its worst it becomes utter isolationism and self-destruction; at best it becomes a malleable despression that can be overlooked with enough outside stimuli. Either way, "Gloomlights" speaks to the sorrow and banality of modern existence in a way that few records have. If you can track it down, it's recommended.

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