Music Row: Musical duo releases a strong debut album

Mu­si­cians Jon Barth­mus and Patrick Marsceill are prov­ing them­selves a com­pat­ible two­some. They're rid­ing a wave of pop­ular­ity from their first al­bum.

One of the bet­ter Philly bands to emerge last year was Sun Air­way, a duo con­sist­ing of Jon Barth­mus and Patrick Marsceill.

While their de­but full-length al­bum, Noc­turne of Ex­ploded Crys­tal Chan­delier, came out last Oc­to­ber, there was plenty go­ing on be­hind the scene be­fore that re­lease.

Barth­mus and Marsceill have been a com­mod­ity on the Philly mu­sic scene for years as part of the A-Sides, a well-re­ceived gui­tar-rock band whose songs had a nice pop edge to go along with its peppy pace.

Be­fore the A-Sides, there was a short-lived hard­core out­fit. But in 2007, the band of­fi­cially called it quits, to the chag­rin of a fairly ded­ic­ated fan base.

Really, though, the pair — mostly led by Barth­mus — were head­ing for a change in sound, one drastic enough to war­rant a change in name.

In­deed, even as the A-Sides, they and been work­ing on and play­ing some songs that would end up as Sun Air­way num­bers.

That it took some two years for Noc­turne of Ex­ploded Crys­tal Chan­delier to be re­leased is a meas­ure of the time and care they took to de­vel­op that sound.

Us­ing an ap­proach that shunned the bang-it-out-quick at­ti­tude em­ployed on so many rock al­bums, Barth­mus and Marsceill spent over two years per­fect­ing what would even­tu­ally amount to a 10-track al­bum.

Re­leased by the re­spec­ted Dead Oceans la­bel, the re­cord seems an af­firm­a­tion that they’re on to something. And with Dead Oceans be­ing a sis­ter la­bel to Secretly Ca­na­dian, it puts them among good com­pany with oth­er Philly bands, in­clud­ing The War on Drugs and Night­lands.

The care and thought that went in­to Noc­turne of Ex­ploded Crys­tal Chan­delier — the name is a spin-off of a piece of pop art by Ed Ruscha called Ex­ploded Crys­tal Chan­delier Head­ache — are evid­ent from the first song.

With a gentle, build­ing fuzz, In­fin­ity wel­comes listen­ers in­to the al­bum with a subtle grace that stirs a sense of warmth. For be­ing so pla­cid, it’s also a sur­pris­ingly clear mes­sage — this is no re­pack­aged A-Sides al­bum.

De­scribed by the in­die-mag Pitch­fork as “bliss-pop” and com­pared to the vaunted An­im­al Col­lect­ive al­bum Mer­ri­weath­er Post Pa­vil­ion — it­self a de­par­ture for that band — Sun Air­way fash­ions its sound not from loud gui­tars and crisp snare drums, but from an ar­ray of elec­tron­ic gad­getry.

Ready to move past the lim­ited palette of in­stru­ments already de­ployed in their A-Sides ef­forts, Barth­mus and Marsceill turned to a vari­ety of di­git­al tools. So don’t look for any six-string thrash­ing on this one.

And really, they don’t need it. Maybe the only thing left from their gui­tar-pop days is a honed sense of pop and a ma­ture sense of song­writ­ing. 

Songs like Amer­ic­an West just shim­mer with pleas­ure, with a cool synth sheen glossing the up­beat tempo that car­ries along en­ga­ging lyr­ics. It can feel a little 1980s with all the elec­tron­ics go­ing on, but in a very good way.

Oth­er songs, like Wait­ing On You, are faster-paced jams that rock out; but some­how you don’t lose that eth­er­e­al, fuzzy qual­ity that gives the Sun Air­way songs their soft and ad­dict­ive hooks. 

In­deed, they seem to have em­ployed some tricks picked up dur­ing their stu­dio days and brought them home to the base­ment, where Sun Air­way as­sembled the soph­ist­ic­ated de­but.

The thor­oughly craf­ted and in­nov­at­ive sound has been get­ting at­ten­tion, giv­ing these artists — now play­ing with a live band nearly identic­al to the old A-Sides lineup — some fresh and much-de­served re­cog­ni­tion.

It also earned them a spot at Pitch­fork’s two-day Off­line Fest­iv­al in March, a show that in­cluded the likes of J Masics. They ap­par­ently played a pretty good set, as they’re head­ing to Chica­go for Pitch­fork’s big fest this Ju­ly, along with such acts as An­im­al Col­lect­ive, Neko Case, Guided by Voices and Thur­ston Moore. That’s some good com­pany to keep, and they’ll also be joined by Kurt Vile and Vi­ol­at­ors, a Philly out­fit that really took off last year.

Loc­ally, R5 Pro­duc­tions is join­ing WX­PN in put­ting to­geth­er a spe­cial Sun Air­way show in the First Unit­ari­an’s gor­geous sanc­tu­ary space on June 3.

With an open­ing set by Bal­timore’s Dustin Wong (cool gui­tar-loop­ing at­mo­spher­ics) and some wild video pro­jec­tion from the Klip Col­lect­ive’s Ri­cardo Rivera, it prom­ises to be an in­ter­est­ing show and a great show­case for this evolving band. ••

Check it out

Who: Sun Air­way, Dustin Wong

What: Philly bliss pop

Where: First Unit­ari­an Church, 22nd and Chest­nut

When: Fri­day, June 3, at 8 p.m.

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