Airbag – A Day at the Beach (2020)

Airbag - A Day at the Beach (2020)
Artist: Airbag
Album: A Day at the Beach
Genre: Neo-Prog
Label: Karisma Records
Year Of Release: 2020
Quality: FLAC (tracks+.cue)

Tracklist:
1. Machines and Men (10:48)
2. A Day at the Beach (Part 1) (3:55)
3. Into the Unknown (10:27)
4. Sunsets (8:16)
5. A Day at the Beach (Part 2) (5:33)
6. Megalomaniac (9:50)

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Personnel:
– Asle Tostrup / lead vocals, keyboards, programming
– Bjørn Riis / guitars, keyboards, backing vocals
– Henrik Fossum / drums

With:
– Kristian Karl Hultgren / bass

Four years ago now, our AMG Overlords made the error in judgement to bring me on as a n00b. Airbag’s Disconnected was my second probationary review, and I will never forget it. Why? Well, because every week without fail for the past four years, our technologically advanced promo distribution system has notified me that “Steel Druhm has stopped sharing Airbag with you.” Okay, I get the hint. If it wasn’t for that incessant notice, though, I never would have noticed their latest album, A Day at the Beach, dropping.1 Disconnected was a milquetoast start to my AMG reviewing career, and no sooner had the review gone up than they were out of my thoughts.2 Being forced into reviewing A Day at the Beach made me look back at my hack of a review, and one question comes to mind: will Airbag take my advice to heart on their fifth album?

In completely inadvertent fashion, yes they did. Rather than regurgitating yet another homage to Pink Floyd, the trio venture down new and intriguing creative paths. Trio? Yes. Apparently more changes have befallen Airbag over the past four years than have the Huckster. The band said goodbye to two founding members, on bass and keyboards, and decided to soldier on as a trio. Guitarist Bjorn Riis remains the band’s fulcrum, with Asle Tostrup on vocals and guitars and Henrik Fossum behind the kit. Ironically, despite the loss of their keyboard player, the music on A Day at the Beach has a distinct New Wave vibe about it. And in fact, the paring down of the band has resulted in their most vital album yet, full of emotion and some downright exquisite songwriting that, while it moves away from the Floyd-core, doesn’t completely abandon it.

“Machines and Men” is the opening track, and a ten-minute study in mood and arrangement. The beginning may remind one slightly of Pink Floyd (in fact, the track listing and this intro made me think this would be a Wish You Were Here rip-off), but the feeling is fleeting, as this morose intro quickly becomes what would be an excellent The Pineapple Thief song. Throughout A Day at the Beach, Airbag had me looking towards The Pineapple Thief’s back-catalog more than Pink Floyd’s. It’s a refreshing and highly effective change. The use of electronica and 80s synth sounds take most of these six songs down unexpected and alluring paths. The songs are patiently assembled, with four of the songs clocking in over eight minutes and the other two combining as the two-part title track. Despite the length, these are very easy songs to sink into and enjoy.

A Day at the Beach tells the story of a man leaving his family to venture into the unknown. It’s a pensive tale, amplified by the tasteful soundscapes, particularly in both halves of the title track. Yes, the Pink Floyd influence still exists, as the end of “Into the Unknown” could have been perfectly at home on The Division Bell while several guitar solos pay slavish devotion to David Gilmour. It’s not too much, though, and songs like the opening track and the closing “Megalomaniac” more than make up for these indulgences. “Megalomaniac” is a superb song, equal parts Floyd, Porcupine Tree, and The Pineapple Thief, plaintive in sound and first beaten down and then uplifted in feel. Airbag have really tapped into the secret sauce throughout much of this album, with just a few lulls holding it back in places.

Honestly, I only took Airbag this week because of my n00b past. In any other circumstance I would have skipped A Day at the Beach, but I’m glad I didn’t. The band surprised me by (mostly) moving away from their blatant Pink Floyd worship and crafted a melancholic yet mesmerizing album full of great moments. I hoped for the band to ditch that aspect of their sound (and produce the drums a bit better, which they do here. The whole album sounds spectacular, in fact.), and they did just that. A Day at the Beach would have to rank as my surprise of the year.
By Huck N Roll

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