Usually when I review a new project of a band I have familiarity with, I go back to their past work to refamiliarize myself and maybe gain some opportunities to draw some connecting threads between the old stuff and new stuff. This time, I didn’t do that on purpose. Aiming For Enrike have been on my radar for several years now, always offering up some interesting music somewhere along the lines of electronic and synthy rock. This one, I was told, was different – a ‘wild shift‘, so said my fellow editor-in-chief Toni, so I went in raw, not even listening to singles that have been out since last August.
It’s called Empty Airports, and I wanna lead with saying that it’s a perfect title. Listening to this album really offered a glimpse into open, almost off-putting liminal space, something I’ve thought a lot about since watching this video (while we’re at it, subscribe to ThorHighHeels). For me, liminal space offers opportunities to build stories in your head, walking along to wherever you’re going, catching views of underpasses, tunnels, nooks, alleys, and other curious areas that could hold profound danger or absolutely nothing. It’s almost like you’re called out to these places and throughfares to investigate. But you don’t – you have shit to do, after all. So you stay along your path, itself a liminal space, deliberately developed and built to be so.
What Aiming For Enrike do is personify this feeling, this phenomenon (too dramatic?), into lowkey yet still textured and evocative music. Reverb rings through tracks like the scraping of your feet on the floor of a large, open space would. Some of the melodies and rhythms mimic the sort of background noise you may here when moving through places like this. The title track suite, made up of an intro and two sizable songs at the beginning of the album, expertly leads things off in that manner with a dash of unease and darkness (doubly so for the live version linked above which almost sounds like it’s using a minor key for some of it). It’s more literal than anything – an empty airport that is dark would probably sound like this, along with that unease of being the only one there because… are you the only one there, really? What’s waiting in the shadows?
Much of the rest of Empty Airports carries an air of whimsy, maybe hints of sadness and longing at what could be. “Slopes” is quite emotive and snappy with percussive pops and raps (as in a knock or strike of something), but the guitar melodies are blue and melancholic like you missed something and it’s eating away at you. “Square Machine” is a stuttering, humming monument to the unknown. One of the shortest songs on the album, its constant, measured barrage of sound is a surrogate traffic purr in the city streets. The jaunty, increasingly frantic drumming is like that of a busker, the kind that use unorthodox, everyday items to fill out their improvised drumkits. Even in the downtempo of this album, it’s exciting, offering sights and sounds that intrigue and perplex equally, and allowing your thoughts to protrude through the often minimalist soundscapes.
I listened to this album while commuting to work and back a couple times, and it was such profoundly fitting music. My liminal spaces, though well-tread and familiar by now, still hold secrets from me. I’ve never walked down the side street near the lightrail station I get off at for work, yet it calls to me as I listen to the pulse of “The Rats and The Children”. Even within buildings at work, rooms with doors open tease, the layout of them cocks the inner space out of view – I want to peek my head in, but I don’t. “The Castle” soundtracks these moments to me, sonically large with how much space it takes up, keeping things filled and at a nice tempo without overbearing or leaving you hanging.
“Pulse Fragments” is the album’s last track, and it’s huge at 17 minutes long. It wraps up Empty Airports with a progressive summary of all the places it went to before. The song curdles and grows from the kind of rapid staccato structure you could find in Low‘s recent output (RIP to Mimi Parker) to a more surreal, celestial vastness that you just wanna bathe in. Synths whirr and contort around your head before we head back to a rhythmic, almost danceable beat and pace. It’s adventurous and pristine, sterile and futuristic, just like the rest of the album.
This feels like the sort of quiet triumph the Norwegian duo were chasing the whole time, but maybe they were in their own way. With an entire pandemic between this and their last album, perhaps Aiming For Enrike needed to lift the hood up and alter the base of who they were and what they wanted to achieve – it paid off. This album isn’t a reinvention, but a sincere reimagining, the kind that Hollywood gushes over nowadays yet rarely executes with the finesse and maturity seen here. It’s incredibly cliché, but Empty Airports is an experience and the more you allow it to envelope and lead you, the more you’ll get out of it. I hope for more of this thoughtfulness in the future from this band.
Band photo by Veronica Van Groningen