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From the first two or three bars of Stratosphere, the opening track from the EP Winks & Kisses: Dizzy by Chicago-based dreampop outfit Airiel, I was hooked. I then struggled for a bit and was hauled onto the deck of the fishing boat to be gently clubbed into oblivion with one of the freshest sounds Iíve come across in years. Stratosphere, with its omni-present organ drone, shimmering guitar, drum machine patterns borrowed (quite aptly) from Cocteau Twinsí Treasure album, and a doleful vocal from frontman/writer Jeremy Wrenn, is an utter joy to behold. Producer David Golitko has applied a cathedral-like backdrop to this song and it soars, dear reader, like some mythical, winged creature of Tolkienesque beauty.

OK, maybe Iím getting carried away in purple prose a little, but, dear me, are these people good at what they do. Track two on this EP, RI, is an instrumental that would not be out of place in the catalogue of some time-travelling, medieval minstrel. My reference to Cocteau Twins is repeated here. Whilst Airiel donít sound like them, Iíll bet that the boys and/or girls of the band have more than one album of the Twins in their collection, along with those by such shoegazer alumni as Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. RI trots along quite nicely, thank you, with electric and acoustic instruments in perfect symmetry with each other.

Track three, This Is Why I Canít Sleep, is gorgeous and possibly my favourite of the four cuts on offer here. Jeremy Wrennís voice has overtones of Pet Shop Boysí Neil Tennant. It dovetails with the mood of the music perfectly, in that it becomes another instrument, rather than being the prominent feature of each song. The guitar work on This Is Why I Canít Sleep owes much (in fact, owes most of its existence) to the groundwork laid down by Cocteau Twinsí Robin Guthrie. Airiel take the sound, mould it, reshape it, and then lay it down again like a reworked path of crystal. Beautiful stuff. I almost expected the golden-throated Liz Fraser to emerge on this song. Lo and behold, Airiel have the silver tones of some unknown female vocalist weaving in and out of the tapestry. Very artful.

Just when Iíd run out of glowing words of praise, the EP seemed to run out of steam. The fourth and final track here, 500 Deep, sounds like a filler song. The drum machine sounds mechanical. Yes, yes, I know that by its nature a drum machine is mechanical, but it truly doesnít protrude so obviously into the mix on tracks one to three. That eventually grates on this correspondentís nerves. At almost ten minutes, this is a long track, which is lengthened by the down-tempo mid-section. Donít misinterpret me, though. 500 Deep is still a good song, but it could have been said more effectively and succinctly in less than half that time. Personally, Iíd have kept the middle piece and ditched the rest. The central, slower section is a multi-track, sonic orgy on downers, so to speak. The song does redeem itself with some heavy-duty, effects-laden guitar, which cruises past the listener like some intergalactic Leviathan.

Do yourself a favour and track Winks & Kisses: Dizzy down. I get the feeling that even the slight tedium of 500 Deep will grow on me eventually. Still, the purchase of this EP is worth it just for the first three tracks. It may be, given that this was released in 2003, that Airiel have gone on to become something of a cult band. Iím known to be regularly late to the party, so I wouldnít be surprised.

Top marks, Airiel. Long may you continue.

Related Links:
  In Your Room, an 8" release which preceeded this EP by a few months.  

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