Soft Fall is the second effort from Philadelphia’s Jon Barthmus aka Sun Airway and what was a bedroom project has now turned into something more grandiose. The follow-up to 2010’s Nocturne Of Exploded Crystal Chandelier is a mixture of home-made beats, organic instrumentation and original string quartet compositions that have been chopped up and reassembled to sound almost like samples.
With the assistance of David Wrench (whose previous credits involve working with Bat For Lashes and Bear In Heaven), Barthmus has created an impressive piece of work. As a whole, this is a rather dreamy and magical LP and nowhere is that more evident than the ‘Activity’ suite of tunes scattered throughout the tracklisting. Activity 1 acts as an ambient and peaceful intro to the album whilst Activity 2 is a kaleidoscope of loops, keyboards and whatever else Barthmus has lying around. Activity 3 is the most fleshed out of the trio with arpeggiators and synths doing battle with majestic strings for four satisfying minutes.
Balancing out these instrumentals are some excellent slices of pop that are performed with an infectious amount of energy. Black Noise has a bold and starry-eyed chorus that is beguiling and is the best of the bunch. However, there are a fair amount of songs that come close to this benchmark; the catchy and captivating Close, the glimmering Wild Palms and the soaring New Movements are all equally memorable.
The dizzying ambition that Soft Fall displays is to be applauded. There are several moments when it is aiming big and throughout there are several teases as to how high this soundscape could go. The epic and euphoric Symphony In White No 2 acts as a perfect marriage between thumping beats and classical arrangements. Closing the LP is the utterly magnificent Over My Head finishes the album in some style. It spends the majority of its time putting the listener into a deep spell before ascending gradually out of nowhere. As it slowly comes back down to Earth with flourishes of violin, it’s hard not to feel exhilarated. If only all home recording projects could sound as lofty as this.
Soft Fall is a solid collection that will garner many repeat plays. Whilst many artists have tried to experiment and come up with new textures, many have faltered when it comes to combining this with songcraft. As such, they’ve made albums that have been easy to admire but hard to love. Thankfully, Sun Airway hasn’t run into the same issues. This brilliant album is colourful, giddy and immensely enjoyable from start to finish. He’s combined a sparkly and woozy aesthetic with killer melodies to create a cohesive and fun winning formula.