The music of Nicole Schneidt disguises its conflict. Very often, listening to an Air Waves album is like receiving a warm hug from a familiar friend. Whether it’s Schneidt’s plaintive vocals or the charming simplicity of the music, Air Waves presented a welcome island of serenity, even as Schneidt’s lyrics pointed to some trouble lurking silently beneath the surface. Warrior seeks to up-end all of that; even its title seems a startling declaration of aggression in comparison to the band’s previous work. The music within isn’t nearly as aggressive as one would think, but it does find Schneidt expanding her palate to express new complexities in her songs.
Previous Air Waves releases could be counted on to fit within a specific formula. The instrumentation was simple, based around a guitar-bass-drums setup with little room for wonky expressions of virtuosity. While occasionally played at a quick pace, Schneidt’s compositions had this folksy charm to them, as well. Keeping things down to the basics was the name of the game, but Warrior slowly does away with all of that.
While the clarity in Warrior‘s sound isn’t entirely new – 2015’s Parting Glances introduced a cleaner sound already – Schneidt’s work has never sounded as grand in scope as it does here. The sweet, jangly opener “Home” is enveloping in its sun-kissed warmth, and low, full synth tones give the presentation of something otherworldly. Indeed, much of Warrior feels separated from Earth somehow, but upon close examination, Schneidt isn’t lazing away in some dreamworld; she’s searching for a way to deal with the uncomfortable reality of America in 2018.
There’s a sort of apolitical nature that indie rock feels most comfortable operating in, and Schneidt’s earlier work definitely worked in that paradigm. However, in a post-Trump world, being apolitical is becoming less and less of an option. Thus, Schneidt’s lyrics on Warrior deal with the trials of the times, specifically those that come with being gay and dealing with leaders who want to restrict one’s rights. The icy synths of “Gay Bets” may appear to be cool pastiche on the surface, but the lyrics are something of a call to arms and a reminder to defend rights that have only just been acquired very, very recently.
The title track, somewhat of a throwback to the chugging guitars of old, is more of a traditional call to arms, its repeated chorus of “You’re a warrior / You’re a warrior” functioning as a pep talk. The attitude of the album can perhaps be best summed up by its closer, “Blue Wave”, which slows things down after a relatively manic second half to the album. Here, Schneidt perfectly balances the two emotions that run through the record: the fury felt towards a society insistent on holding back progress (“Will we still / Be waiting / For times to change”) and the desire to not just give up all hope.
Warrior could have easily been an album built around anger and cathartic expression, and it still would have received a fair amount of praise for being that. However, catharsis is a fleeting feeling, and Nicole Schneidt clearly knows that lasting art – universal art – has to transcend temporal bounds while still speaking to what’s happening in the here and now. Warrior has anger running through its grooves, but it also has comfort, hope, and a desire to hold on no matter how bad things may get.