Album Review: Air Traffic Controller – Black Box – Winner of #NewMusicFriday Ep. 2
The indie rock band Air Traffic Controller have a style that is both pop feeling and deeply artistic, which can be a rare combination. There are unique rhythms on several tracks and layered sounds that might make some listeners wonder what they’re up to, yet in many instances the band stays true to the old fashioned definition of rock music. It blends together for a truly unique style. We’re proud to present the winners of #NewMusicFriday episode 2, with their 2016 release Black Box. The musical work of Dave Munro and Casey Sullivan is well worth your time.
The opener is an upbeat track that gets listeners moving, then the second track “Phantom” shifts the gears to a sound that is really unconventional. Some of the lead vocal inflections feel almost theatrical and the dynamics feel ready for a major production. “Get it over with” is a lyrically driven track that deals with conflict in a relationship. Although the electro elements are a bit more than what we typically applaud, the vocals are really great and the song generates a conversational vibe that works well.
The track “The House” is a perfect college anthem if you ask me. The vocals are fun, lyrics engaging, and it’s actually laugh out loud funny. I can really imagine lots of folks with this in their playlists and mixes for the new school year! Then it’s followed by “What You Do to My Soul,” an adorable romantic anthem by Casey Sullivan about falling in love and needing one another. The driving rhythm reminds me of something you might hear at a party with friends. The guitars are deceptively complicated. It’s really an outstanding track and sounds like a direction that ATC could pursue for a full album if they wanted.
“Water Falls” has this really great indie pop flavor that I really like. The gang vocal, when done right, can just pull the listener right into the storyline. I just picture this beautiful music video of beautiful people in beautiful outfits playing under a waterfall all looking like they met at an Abercrombie photo shoot… but maybe that’s not the vision for this at all. But it just makes me have all these beautiful visions. The lyric “dancing through the night” makes me think that this is meant as an anthem for people who are getting the most out of life. I like that.
“This Is Love” is a much darker tune. There are some fascinating images and lyrics in this one, although still soundly in that indie rock genre. It’s about fighting and enduring in the midst of conflict. I know the best thing to do in a “fight” with your significant other is to seek immediate forgiveness and reconciliation, but that desire to fight really comes through on this song. “Got no shame, got no pride, only skeletons to hide…” Oh yeah! This is probably the smartest song on an intriguing album.
“On the Wire” is the song that won the contest (and this review) for ATC. I have to say the vocal on this particular single is a bit different than several of the others on the full album. I definitely expected more of a chill album after having “On the Wire” be my introduction to the band. That said, there’s a consistency in their sound that I really like. They have a melodic sense that comes through in chill songs as well as more upbeat tunes. “On the Wire” is really a great indication of the band, too, because it highlights a few different versions of their sound. While some of the other tracks are party anthems, this one is much more of the kind of music I like to listen to while working. It has an encouraging vibe but isn’t so loud that it distracts.
The song “Island” is more my speed in terms of the acoustic guitar and solo vocal at the beginning. The poetic lyrics and minimalist presentation are a balm to my soul. When the strings enter and the song becomes more of a full production, I find myself being filled with a sort of calculated joy. I think it’s only tempered by the message of the song, which has a experienced and gentle warning to it. “Are You With Me?” brings back Munro for a funky and loose, reflective track that draws on life’s complications. At the end of the day, it seems to come back to self consciously living life to its fullest.
This album does a remarkable job of engaging with difficult themes in life. There are stories of fighting in relationships, loving in relationships, and making the most of daily life. It’s the kind of album that actually makes you want to live your life more positively. But the despite the poppy vibe of many of the songs, there’s a lot of musical complexity to it. This album won’t bore you, for sure. There are literally 13 different types of sounds on the album, which gives it great replayability. The combo of Munro and Sullivan is all the better for the best of us, giving more than the standard “male female indie pop duo” with more of an advanced collaboration of two talented artists who could clearly have solo careers if they chose to do so. We’re more than happy for the collaboration and hope a few of these tracks get the big time airplay they deserve.