Airhead has long played second fiddle to James Blake. He collaborated with the pop star before he was famous, and now tours with him as his guitarist. His understated explorations with voice, guitar and sub-bass helped to define the wobbly aesthetic Blake would carry with him into stardom. It's not as if Airhead's been languishing in obscurity—he signed to R&S last year and has released two well-received EPs—but he hasn't had the crossover success of his closest peers either. For Years, his long-incubated debut album, may very well be Rob McAndrews' attempt to reach that lofty place. More of a tinker than a dramatic shift in style, it casts his music in an autumnal light, all warm hues and crinkling leaves
For Years begins with one of Airhead's most disjointed tracks, last year's "Wait." Creasing a Yeah Yeah Yeahs sample over an intermittent guitar riff, it's charmingly awkward, as if McAndrews glued chunks of different songs together. The subtle "Milkola Bottle" sounds more mature, knitting samples together tightly before carefully unwinding into calmer passages. From here on, For Years sounds comfortable in its own skin. Even when it cycles through schizoid garage ("Pyramid Lake") and post-rock textures ("Azure Race"), it's tempered by small moments of rustic beauty, like the English folk of "Autumn" and "Callow." Those two show Airhead's delicate pencil strokes thickening into more defined shapes, with all the fragile emotion of bands like Broken Social Scene.
There's a distinct shift following "Autumn," starting with the heat-struck house of "Fault Line." "Lightmeters," meanwhile, is a Mount Kimbie-esque vignette that smacks of McAndrews' dubstep-indebted past, a point driven home with the closing James Blake collaboration "Knives." A return to the partnership that started it all, it shows how McAndrews has stayed true to himself even with a tumultuous scene shapeshifting around him. McAndrews has spent the past three years fashioning some of the most curious music to come out of the UK's bustling late-'00s boom. For Years feels like the natural conclusion to the quest he quietly started back in 2010.
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