2016 has seen a veritable outpouring of releases which express and embody a seemingly deep-seated contemporary preoccupation with despair and despondency. Melancholic gloom is finding strong, heart-felt resonances in the work of many song writers, bands, musicians as well as the audiences who listen to their music. An almost numb and weary resignation is becoming the pervading atmosphere of our time, increasingly reflected in the music to which we listen.
Against the growing backdrop of social and personal alienation, Norwegian band Airbag release their fourth studio album Disconnected. The iconic symbol of technological on-line living which adorns the cover carries a blunt and often bleak message. Social media lulls us into believing we are all interconnected, engaging and interacting in ever more immediate and responsive ways with family and friends, when in reality we are alone and isolated in our rooms, sitting in front of flickering screens, becoming increasingly disconnected with life, with each other and with ourselves.
The album is rooted in the personal experiences of guitarist and founding member Bjørn Riis who believes we are sleepwalking through lives which have become comfortable, complacent and largely without meaning. There is a gnawing sense at the heart of it all that things are not right, they do not feel right but the ability to do anything about it has been lost or forgotten. We become disillusioned, living lives we gradually come to hate amidst a growing sense of despair and disbelief at the continually shocking nature of the world around us.
Describing the six tracks which comprise Disconnected as being their darkest yet, the music is certainly characterised by a permeating feeling of austerity. Compared to All Rights Removed (2011) and The Greatest Show on Earth (2013), the characteristic Airbag sound has without doubt been deliberately scaled back and stripped down. There is a ruthless simplicity which underpins and helps to deliver the austerity of message, mood and music, aided by a mix which intentionally appears to take the edge off the top ranges and at times deliberately blurs some of the focus between individual instruments.
The result is both impressive as well as challenging. The poignancy of the lyrics is matched only by the sheer scale of the emotional introspection invitingly stimulated by the music. Don’t be fooled, however. The sensuous charm and deliciously rich textures of the horizons being painted may draw frequent and easy comparisons with Pink Floyd, but the comparison is ultimately a disservice in masking the iron fist inside this particular velvet glove.
If you want to talk about the pain, suffering and hopelessness people suffer and endure, the music has to be equal to the task. In taking a more unadulterated approach to the way the music comes together, by giving the guitar work a heavier emphasis, by keeping a solid, driving and relentless set of rhythms yet sometimes diluting the way that is refracted across the soundstage and by using the keyboards to inject dynamic layers of both discord and melody, you begin to capture perfectly the tumble and the jumble of emotions and feelings people experience in their daily lives.
What I think is ultimately so captivating about Disconnected is that it successfully captures episodes of a life in various stages of turmoil, bleakness, awakening, regret, indifference, anger, remorse and lament. The song titles themselves signpost the journey being undertaken and do so, again, with a simplicity which matches the robust moodiness of the music. Everything is hidden in plain sight and the pay-off is a set of captivating songs which are modern hymns to the absorbing complexities of everyday life, delivered with directness, sensitivity and above all, integrity.
Introspection can be good for the soul. Understanding the feelings of melancholy, gloom and general depression which surround us all can help push us forward and find fresh pathways to explore and travel. With the release of Disconnected, Airbag have given us an enchanting, compelling and refreshingly honest companion for the times in which we live and for the journey ahead.
This review first appeared for The Progressive Aspect
Total time: 50:28
Henrik Fossum / drums
Anders Hovdan / bass
Asle Tostrup / vocals, keyboards, programming
Bjørn Riis / guitars, keyboards, backing vocals, bass
Label: Karisma Records
10th May 2016
Format: CD, Limited Edition Digipak, Digital, Vinyl (2LP)
Band Website: http://www.airbagdisconnected.com/