Review: Airhead – Pyramid Lake / Black Ink

Airhead is an artist that we don’t know much about, and we kind of like it that way. His releases come quietly and stay a while, never making the mistake of getting lumped in with others. Not that Airhead is cashing in on the anonymity trend either – he just seems to be content with doing his own thing. Adam Harper‘s (really interesting) new book recently altered the way we look at the contemporary music landscape and called out the influence of technology for keeping many musicians fixated in the past and unable to envision a future: something we all feel often enough when we hear something strikingly new, staring blankly at a screen and wondering what could possibly come next. The production boom of the last few years has driven enthusiasts and professionals alike to look at the industry from an increasingly meta standpoint. Endless debate about trends pushing forward while being so self-referential keeps a lot of music stuck in the mud. Of course, a rejection of habit and mundane routine is a way to avoid falling into the void of unimaginative-yet-trendy production, and luckily there are some practitioners who naturally can make the best of the literally infinite possibilities made available to them by technology. Creativity and potential are of course important factors in the mix, but above all it’s talent that prevents an artist from the sad fate of either creating volumes that all sound the same, or contrived releases that are purposely opposite from one another. This is perhaps why we’re partial to an independent, unhyped, slow series of releases that are always quite unlike anything else we’re listening to, and therefore, why we have a soft spot for Airhead’s “Pyramid Lake/Black Ink.”

Stream: Airhead – Pyramid Lake (R&S)

The London producer’s latest release appeared without any pomp or parade, and we were ready to hear it while drifting off like his previous Yeah Yeah Yeahs-sampling release on R&S “Wait/South Congress” or his misty remix of Shlohmo’s “The Way U Do” but we should know by now that building expectations based on the past is a bad move. What Airhead has delivered this time around is out of left field for those of us who aren’t so good at predicting the chaos just one person can create. “Pyramid Lake” comes off as a blender of sounds, a Flight Of The Bumblebees-esque synth wakes you up as the slow groove of the deep bass rolls along, layers and layers of percussion folding over top and a familiar sounding vocal sample adds some organic texture to the alien atmosphere.

The other side, “Black Ink,” is the one that caught us off guard the most. The creaking, ticking intro prepared us more for a haunted house, and less for being suddenly bowled over by a wash of stormy and unusual percussion, overwhelming and hectic, drawing on a seriously unconventional sound palette. Had Airhead fallen into the more brash aesthetic found in recent releases by Blawan or Midland & Pariah, then “Pyramid Lake/Black Ink” would be that much less remarkable – but his choice of sounds reminds us why we can’t group him in with that many producers in the first place. A composition this tumultuous at once carefully avoids aggression while ramping up the discomfort, and while at times it’s as scattered as a tapdancing octopus it never gets too busy or sounds unrefined. It’s a move in a more assertive direction from what we’ve seen from Airhead in the past, and we’re not mad at all.

Stream: Airhead – Black Ink (R&S)

Airhead has managed to do what many struggle for, which is taking advantage of all of the options available to him, putting the blinders on and running with it. Many people might feel restricted by pursuing a creative process that, in essence, begins with channeling an idea into a choice between 0’s and 1’s, yes and no, this or that, and stretches all the way down to intricate refinement of the final product. There’s a lot of room to go right, and even more room to go wrong. What helps to differentiate between the good, bad, and the ugly then is a consciousness on behalf of the listener of the way that even the conception of a sound changes as musicians get barraged with more and more choices to set themselves apart from others. Someone with as many influences as Airhead could easily end up spreading oneself too thin, but with each release he moves closer to carving out a place for himself among his counterparts in an earnest way. As it becomes even easier for everyone to choose to sound the same, watching and hearing the results of his adventure is one of the most refreshing things we can pay attention to and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Pyramid Lake/Black Ink” (RS1209) by Airhead is out now on R&S.

Cayley MacArthur