Air Castles

Night and Day EP

(Winter Hymns; 2009)

By George Bass | 10 February 2009

Anyone into Burn Down Rome would probably not have put money on guitarist Max Mansson secretly dabbling with MOR. Sometimes, though, life likes to squirt you in the eye, so face facts hardcore scream-o-lites: your boy just jumped ship. The real shocker is he did it with the grace of Under Siege-era Steven Seagal, landing without so much as a thud aboard the USS Commercial Post-Rock and setting sail for Sweden. Renaming himself after a luxury line of Nikes, Air Castles return with the Night and Day EP under a thick fog of suspicion: who is this skull-hoodied axeman and what has he secretly been forging with the man from Cult of Luna out there in the blue air of Umeå?

The answer doesn’t come easy, but if you’re big on autumn leaves, crispy twigs, cold breath, and soft gazes, chances are you’ll warm quickly to this one. Fuck it—your whole family might with this level of universal draw. “We sleep at sunrise,” sighs Mansson on the breathy “Quietly” as a Counting Crows loop boils over, his wall of sound bursting like gravity dams. It’s endearing, and certainly a lot more eloquent than you’d expect from a man who’d pass as Boris Johnson’s roadie (tough break).

Air Castles remember the punk claws of the previous project, you see, but when they use them to stroke the new sound it just purrs with comfortable delight. A month in the Scandinavian countryside turns the hoarse assault of Faith In Liars, Faith In Thieves (2007) into “Winter”’s drifting sirens, holding court for over six minutes as it gives rise to pianos and feedback. On first listen it’s a long way from Godpeed; on second, perhaps not so. There’s the clue to your enjoyment of Night and Day: you need to set aside time to revisit. I don’t mean immediately after your first spin—you’ll want to go for a walk then—but muse on it for an hour or so and you’re sold, or you’ll definitely be back at any rate.

Sometimes you need to put your avuncular head on to dig all those astral crashes, and in places the record feels so darn 2002 it’s poised to nod to the Columbia space disaster. Thankfully, that doesn’t come. Mansson’s twenty minute set is a tight one, and as he moves from the young Bloc Party chronicles of “Maps of Someday” to his “Broken Watches” finale, you’re pretty sure he’s got you. The latter in particular is worth the ticket alone: its folky plod belies its wide heart and the structure provides the necessary take-off moment to crave with any kind of post-rock. “Days and days go by / Still trying to make things right / I’m not so sure / That I can do much more,” pines Mansson as guitars soar and cymbals count down the rockets. It dies in a swathe of distortion; we’re left wondering how a fifth track might have taken things if its author had been a little greedy. According to the Air Castles press people, there’s a full-length already in the works, backed by the band who’ve been sessioning for Mansson on his recent tour of the UK. That will be interesting.