Matt Park and Airstrip land with intensity

Kings, Raleigh
Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013

Airstrip, led by former-Veelee partner Matthew Park, plays hook-laden indie rock with unusual heft. It’s a trait that makes sense when you consider the personnel: Bassist Nick Petersen and drummer John Crouch also constitute the rhythm section of the slow-burning Chapel Hill metal troupe Horseback. But as Park will tell you, the aim of the band’s aesthetic isn’t so much heaviness as intensity. Airstrip’s songs resound with strung-out feelings of frustration and isolation, crystallized by oblique observations that seethe with devastating sarcasm. Willing, the band’s minimally constructed and sonically huge debut, complements Park’s intense emotions with claustrophobic electronics and simple riffs that are distorted and multiplied until they feel inescapable. It’s a remarkably well-formed style, one that is both overwhelming and addictive.

Saturday night, Airstrip celebrated the release with a concert at Raleigh’s Kings Barcade, and while the band’s live show couldn’t match the barrage of sound that powers its LP, the players achieved Park’s intended intensity with a more minimal approach. Park played keys and guitar, joined by Tre Acklen on guitar and the formidable rhythm section of Petersen and Crouch. The band most often played in unison, beefy bass lines, fuzz-infused riffs and bruising drum fills landing in one powerful burst. Executed with steely concentration, this rock solid foundation allowed the band’s fleeting flourishes to stand out: Park’s steadily ascending keyboard lines on “Sleepy” became a transfixing force. Crouch’s concussive drum hits lent welcome shock waves to the jolt-seeking “Pleasure Center.”

The power of Airstrip’s live show shined brightest on “Bitching Hour.” The recorded version benefits from a bass line that’s magnified into an ominous cloud and a vocal that’s refracted and distorted until it becomes an extension of the madness inherent in Park’s narrative. Live, the band countered its limitations with crisper contrasts. Petersen and Crouch opened with sludgy power, bolstered by abrasive noise courtesy of Acklen. Park diffused the tension with prickling fills, sometimes supported by Acklen. This heady mix of brute force and finesse is the true boon of Airstrip’s live presentation. Their songs achieve the mass of metallic psych-rock, but they’re lifted by cunning hooks and economical electronics. The result is catch-all for anyone who likes their pop a little on the darker side.