For Years, the debut album from Airhead aka Rob McAndrews marks the four year transition from student producer to international touring musician, playing to vast audiences across the world as guitarist for his childhood friend James Blake, writing and jamming in the studio with James and Brian Eno, and DJing on the finest club soundsystems modern technology has to offer.
It spans from tracks like "Azure Race," "Milkola Bottle" and "Knives" (featuring Blake) - the kind of intensely introspective and sometimes "forlorn and sad" atmospheres you'd expect from a young man fiercely dedicated to his craft above all else - through to more recent tracks like "Callow" and the sun-dappled "Fault Line," with their gentle female vocals and playful rhythms.
Immersed as a teenager in the multi-layered orchestrally-enhanced post-rock of God Speed You! Black Emperor, Silver Mount Zion and Stars Of The Lid, he had, "absolutely no interest" in electronic music to begin with. But like so many of his generation, exposure to the early manifestations of dubstep - and particularly Digital Mystikz and Loefah at Sub Dub Exodus in Leeds' West Indian Centre - showed him that this too was music with depths that you could plunge into.
It was Sub Dub Exodus, in a dark corner by a giant speaker stack, that he had a "special moment," a sudden realization that music wasn't notes or chords on a page, and wasn't something conceptual, but "was just manipulation of sound to evoke emotion. It might seem simple or obvious but it changed how I approached music, and even though it was four or five years ago, it still sticks with me now," says McAndrews.
You can hear it in For Years - not just the freedom from the musical rules and genres that came with that realization, but the sense of an absolute passion for and the deep understanding of particular musical moments echoing through time. The field recordings and delicately picked-out guitar melodies of "Wait" and the hesitant claps that explode into huge reverberations through the creepy-crawling undulations of "Knives" have been boosted and sharpened via McAndrew's experience of playing on the legendary soundsystem of London's Plastic People. So although they sound like the products of being lost in thought, they are also present in the room and glitter with a sense of pure pleasure in sound for its own sake.
The more recent tracks like "Autumn," with its Bossanova-sounding lilt and swaying melodies, or the trippy and playful sub-bass house rhythm of "Fault Line," conversely, have all the depth of thought and emotion that the earliest compositions do. They may ride along on infectious grooves, but each one contains untold details that speak of reflection and strange mental spaces explored. So the past is filtered through the present and vice versa, all wrapped narrative: enter into For Years and it's like a strange and beautiful building that you'll want to explore differently each time. Even after many listens you'll find spaces opening up you'd never come across before, sometimes with the finest detail revealing something new that will leave you breathless and speechless...in a good way.
Street Date: June 11, 2013
'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.