Sun Airway: Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier

Sun Airway delivers a genuinely beautiful record, meant for the summer but a perfect gift for the winter.

Sun Airway

Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier

Label: Dead Oceans
US Release Date: 2010-10-26
UK Release Date: 2010-10-25

Indie rock has gone through something of a facelift in recent years. There’s been an increasing prolificacy of prettiness in buzz bands, from Grizzly Bear and chillwave to Merriweather Post Pavilion and Sufjan Stevens. This isn’t just the longstanding ‘90s-ish fascination with twee -- these bands aren’t interested in sounding cute, but actually ethereally beautiful. They’re focused on uplift, of sweeping melodies and flowing endorphins. Punk’s not dead, but its distant offshoots are wearing eyeshadow and blush in a way more like Scarlett Johansson than David Bowie.

Philadelphia’s Sun Airway offers a case in point on Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier. The band, a quintet live but on record a duo comprised of songwriters Jon Barthmus and Patrick Marsceill, traffics in gently danceable programmed beats, layers of synths, and Barthmus’s firm and confident vocals. The results are, in a word, pretty. The overdubs of his breathy singing on tracks like “Swallowed by the Night” recall the effortless harmonies of Panda Bear, but with none of Noah Lennox’s surfer dude vocal affectations. It’s less Brian Wilson, more -- well, something else. Critics have repeatedly pointed to a strange similarity in Barthmus’s voice with that of Julian Casablancas, and the comparison fits. Like the Strokes frontman, Barthmus can move from a throaty near-baritone to an easy tenor (and, why not, a crystalline falsetto) with no complaints from his register.

If reviews focus on Barthmus’s vocals, it makes sense. His performance on Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier consistently impresses without ever seeming showy. The “oo-oo” refrain on “Waiting on You” scratches the perfect center of an itch for pop, while his yearning yelps on “Actors” sound like the Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser if the latter gave up cigarettes and whiskey. “We’ve got our friends”, he sings, “we know they’ve been there all along”, and where Leithauser can flawlessly sell barbed jabs of resentment in his delivery, Barthmus wrings true sentiment from his simple, joyful lyrics.

Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier is a feel good record, genuine in all the ways that a beautiful composition should be. Musically, its densely layered production surrounds its audience with a wall of sound, but one about as far away from the acerbic attitude of Phil Spector as one could get. Try listening to “Shared Piano” and not feeling charmed. On that song and most of its sisters here, percussion and swirling keys blend together in a delectably sweet mixture that never seems saccharine. It bears emphasizing that, however ethereal its heights may be, Nocturne is explicitly not background music. It packs a punch when it so desires -- “Infinity”, “American West”, and “Put the Days Away” all deliver driving hooks and a contagious energy. This is the type of record people release to the thirsty masses in the height of the summer, but Sun Airway has done us a favor by holding off until winter, when we could really use the warmth.






PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.


Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.