There is something truly special about a simple, well-written album. You might not always know why it is so good, but you just know it to be true. I think Airbag albums are like that. After four years of silence, the band has reemerged with “A Day at the Beach”, which releases on June 19th through Karisma Records. This album is a wonderful experience through and through.
Airbag hails from Norway. The current band lineup is Asle Tostrup on lead vocals, keyboards, and programming; Bjørn Riis on guitars, keyboards, and backing vocals; and Henrik Fossum on drums. On bass is guest Kristian Karl Hultgren. Bjørn himself has been quite active the last few years with his solo albums, all of which are fantastic.
Airbag offer progressive rock that is atmospheric, expressive, and slow burning most of the time. Some people compare them to Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree, and those citations are valid, but the band truly has their own sound, too. Bjørn’s guitars are definitely reminiscent of Gilmour, and so there is no escaping that. However, their sound is also lush, climactic, and maybe even a little pop-inspired. The band doesn’t weigh us down with technique, but definitely brings the emotion and sonic bliss.
With “A Day at the Beach”, the band has moved away, ever so slightly, from the guitar-driven style of their past works. While Bjørn is present, certainly, he is not the driving force of the music. Instead, Bjørn’s guitars muse and solo up against a beautiful wall of keys, throbbing bass, and electronica. Yes, I think electronica is probably more present on this album than on any other Airbag album, and you will even notice that it is the very first thing you hear on the very first song. Many of the melodies involve electronic loops, too, so this album often feels like it has a dozen musical layers, making it feel lavish and full.
One other thing I should mention is Kristian’s bass guitar. I don’t know if he is *just* a guest, or en route to becoming a member, but his bass on this album is extraordinary. I love the tone and the reeling, bubbling lines he plays. With his bass, Asle’s sweeping keys, and the electronic elements, Bjørn’s guitars have room to emote and introspect, and I think that makes for an album of satisfying contrasts.
One thing I feel I need to mention, however, is the overall arc of the band. While this album is great, there are only slight adjustments in what they are bringing to the table. It sounds good and I know fans will love it, but if you haven’t ever really liked the band, this album certainly won’t convince you to give them another shot. I’m afraid that their sound may get stale over time, so I’m hoping that the band has some new ideas up their sleeve for the future.
The album has only six songs, but still reaches a bit over 47 minutes in length. For me, that is the sweet spot for album runtime. Anyways, many of the songs sound the same to some extent, so it is often feels like you just started the album when the final track fades into silence. It is a strange feeling. The band have released two tracks, being “Machines and Men” and “Sunsets”. The former is the opener, and it takes a few seconds to get started, so don’t worry that your speakers aren’t working or something. It is a grand song, though; one with an electronic foundation that slowly builds to an epic conclusion. I really like it, especially on a good system. “Sunsets” is also wonderful, having a little more gallop in its stride, and I love the keys in the middle.
The album technically only has three more songs. The title track has two parts, both of which sound great, but the second part is much more active sonically. The first part is a slow burn that never really gets going fully, but obviously it is paired with its second half, which brings more layers and addictive little melodies. “Into the Unknown” is an interesting song, being only about 4 minutes long. It feels almost like a concentrated dose of the sound of the full album, as all the elements are here, just with a truncated structure. Finally, “Megalomaniac” ends the album. I find this to be the track where Bjørn is most active, and his vibrant guitars really steal the show.
“A Day at the Beach” is a rich offering from Airbag. It has layer after layer of goodness and wholesomeness, and maybe you could have predicted that from the little teddy bears with their heads in the sand. Of course, the band seems to be rather politically motivated here, and I bet you can guess their perspective just from the song titles. Still, I happen to agree with them on their political viewpoints, and it makes for an uneasy balance, combining the beautiful soundscapes with social commentary. I do hope that Airbag can reinvent themselves, at least a little bit, with future releases, but for now this album is all the nourishment fans will need.
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