Dave Munro, frontman for Air Traffic Controller -– and during a stint in the U.S. Navy, a real-life ATC! – spends a lot of time examining relationships at crossroads on his band’s sophomore LP, Nordo. In a neat bit of irony, Nordo reveals ATC’s sound to also be at a critical junction. Does ATC want to be a fizzy, synth-fueled indie pop band, as Nordo’s Side A suggests –- anchored by the superlative “Hurry Hurry”, which plays like the overcaffeinated YouTube-era answer to They Might Be Giants’ “Don’t Let’s Start” (right down to Munro’s nasal, clipped vocals), and its near-carbon copy “The Work” -– or the lush, cinematic chamber pop band that rules Side B? To these ears, ATC are better at the former, though I guess if you’ve got access to a forty-piece orchestra like ATC apparently does, you might as well avail yourself of their services. Unfortunately, given the sonic palette at his disposal, Munro’s reach often exceeds his grasp: the simmering “Blame” isn’t the cathartic album centerpiece the band thinks it is (though the awesome-kiss-recollection “Magic” comes close). The band does more with less, and really, the swoony strings detract from Munro’s well-observed lyrics about relationships at turning points. “You Know Me” finds a couple tenuously moving from friends to something more (“I think you can make me better”); “Any Way” could be that couple in five years, trying to patch things up (“Do you think we could try love again?”); “Different” is that couple splitting the difference (“We could be good friends and lovers just the same”). Munro, like the characters in his songs, needs to decide what he wants to be.
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