It can be a tricky job to review the familiar, and anyone who has come into contact with Nightmare Air, guitarist Dave Dupuis, or his previous band Film School, over the past few years will know that a couple of the tunes on High In The Lasers have been around for a while. However, the task is made easier by the mix of the familiar and new, the quality of sound and how close it is to what the band achieves live, when they are right on the money.
Nothing shows the contribution that a musician makes to a band like having them transplanted to another. There is a lot here that is reminiscent of Film School, underlining Dave Dupuis’ contribution to that outfit over their last two albums, but there is also a lot more. Nightmare Air seem to have been a parallel project leading up to the moth-balling of Film School so the temptation may have been to just keep going with more of the same, but there’s no rehashing of old stuff with 18 Days the only survivor from their 2010 debut EP, (also managing to appear as the b-side of their Escape single last year!).
Rising above the familiar layers of sound the vocals are shared between Dave and bass player Swaan Miller, swapping the lead in what becomes almost a call and response feature, her ethereal almost child- like tones jarring against his piercing falsetto. Underneath Jimmy Lucido’s muscular approach keeps the drums whirling away as the band walks the line between shoe gaze and indie rock ‘ n roll without really settling in one place.
Each track is layered with effects distortions and loops that bring to mind the Starship Enterprise console that makes up Dave’s barrage of pedals on stage. However this is not just some technical narcissism but a collection of proper songs that attracted heavyweights like Howie Weinberg ( Nirvana, Sonic Youth) and Dave Shiffman (The Mars Volta, Nine Inch Nails, BRMC) into the studio to master and mix the tunes.
Scott McDonald from Surfing On Steam dubbed Nightmare Air ” possibly LA’s loudest band”. When they appeared at the “Edge of… ” festivals last summer in the UK in Brighton and Holmfirth I could get where he was coming from. Anyone who has seen any of the stream of west coast bands that rock up to blast various Birmingham venues will know that this is no mean accolade. Some of the smaller venues at this year’s SxSW, underway this week, will be in for the same surprise as the band promote the new material. If anything the great thing about this album, particularly in songs like 18 days and Brightest Diamond, is that along with all the volume and power that the band gives live you get the hear the nuances and the skill behind those loops and effects.
If I have one criticism it is that there isn’t enough of the album; the nine tracks fly by. However they do leave the best until last with Wolf In The Woods, for my money the outstanding track.
High In The Lasers is released in the UK on 18th March.
Review – Ian Gelling