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The Battle of Sealand


Highwheel Records

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Way back in the 1990s, Gavin of Stickfigure Distro used to run a shop inside the old 511 Club on Edgewood, on Saturday afternoons. I enjoyed going and sorting through his stacks, and talking about music. At some point, Gavin pointed me towards a 7" by Airiel, a Chicago-based shoegazer act. It contained two songs: Shirley Temple Tidal Wave, and Stationary Lights, both of which were (are) perfect examples of dreampop, as typified by chiming guitars and light melodies.

Since then i have tracked down many of the hard to find Airiel releases, and watched as the band grew from a solo project of Jeremy Wrenn and into a full band. As members have been added, the music of Airiel has become harder and denser. This album is not full of the light swirling sounds that typified that era of Airiel's shoegazeriness.

That is not to say that Airiel have become boring. Far from it. Of course, on first listen i was shocked at the heaviness of the music on The Battle of Sealand, but at the same time i was entranced. This is harder shoegaze done well. It is the best thing i have heard in this vein since SIANspheric's last release....

Basically, take a couple of guitars and add a ton of effects pedals to them. Add in a thick bass, some loud drumming, and a voice half-buried in the mix, so that it sounds like he is screaming and yet still barely able to be heard over the guitars. It's not exactly a new thing, but i find it is usually enjoyable, and Airiel have done a fine job with it.

Standout tracks include Sugar Crystals, in which Airiel team up with the unmistakeable Ulrich Schnauss. (No, really, when did his keyboard style become so instantly recognizable? You can tell this is a Schnauss tune from the first 5 seconds!) This is such a Schnuass-y tune that it comes across as one of the lightest on the record.

But it is when Airiel rock out that they move me most. Both You Kids Should Know Better and Peoria move along at a furious pace. The band tears through the songs, with squealing guitars buried under layers and layers of noise, while the voice sounds frustrated by its inability to be clearly heard over the ruckus. There is a wonderful tension in these songs.

Overall, i would say that Airiel have made a fine record. So Airiel have become a much harder band than they were, transitioning from dream pop into shoegaze. Still, they manage to pull it off and make an interesting disc. I wonder where they will go next?

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Also on EvilSponge:
     8":In Your Room
     EP:  Dizzy


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