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Air Waves
Dungeon Dots Michael Dix , December 17th, 2010 12:22

Up until quite recently, if Nicole Schneit and her band Air Waves were on the radar of your average music blog reader, it was probably due to a glowing endorsement from Dan Deacon, who picked them out as his favourite new group in a Pitchfork article back in 2007, describing their music as being "like a favourite blanket wrapped around you." Given Deacon's eccentric tastes, Air Waves could just as easily have been cranking out minimal drone compositions or immersive power electronics, and with no recorded output to refer to, we were all left somewhat in the dark. So it comes as a welcome surprise to find, three years later, that Deacon's idea of cosy and comforting is pretty much the same as the most normal among us: simple, sometimes folky punk-pop that is as familiar as it is bittersweet.

The radio silence during the gestation period for Air Waves' debut album Dungeon Dots might seem pretty extreme, but Schneit's been biding her time, working her way through various rhythm sections to find the perfect fit for her musical vision. Recorded with Kevin McMahon at the Walkmen's Marcata Studios, and with only the occasional backing vocal from folk chanteuse Sharon Van Etten and Schneit's girlfriend, YellowFever singer Jennifer Moore, to compliment the bass/ drums/ guitar power trio set-up, these ten gently rocking tunes already feel lodged in your brain before they're even finished. Maybe it's the walking bass-lines and shuffling snare brushes, the easy swinging rhythms, or the warm tones that radiate from both Schneit's vocals and guitar, but Dungeon Dots is packed with deja-vu moments, like hearing a stranger singing lullabies you loved as a child.

As simplistic as her melodies are, Schneit's lyrics hint at something a little more complex. Having just relocated from Brooklyn to Austin to be with Moore, one would hope that lines like "I get down on my hands and knees/ And pray that you will leave" stem from an imagined relationship rather than her own. Sugar-rushes like 'Knockout' offer some appropriately buzzing lyrical gems ("I'm alive, I'm on fire/ For the first time in my life"), but the smiles are in short supply compared to more world-weary soul-searching. 'Humdrum' bemoans that things are "always the same", while 'Bisous' finds Schneit exploring the same territory in more poetic detail; "What a sad group we are/ Nothing changed from ten years before/ Well we waited for a change/ But that change never came".

Musically, Schneit and her band play it safe, drawing inspiration from ragged country-tinged rock (Neil Young is the only musical influence listed on the band's Myspace page) and fuzzy alt-pop, and although her smoky, melancholic voice bears similarities to the likes of Chan Marshall or Feist, there's a playful naivety present that also recalls the Velvet Underground's Mo Tucker. The Velvets' shadow also loom large over gently chugging tracks like 'Lightning' and 'Bisous' and like Reed and company, Air Waves seem to subscribe to the theory that, when it comes to chord changes, less is more. Only 'Humdrum', with its tribal drums and ominous rumbling bass, break away from the folky blueprint, sounding a little like in-vogue psych-rockers Warpaint. If Dungeon Dots deserves any criticism, it would be fair to say that Schneit rarely ventures beyond her comfort zone, but as winter closes in it's hard to deny that's a pretty nice place to be.

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