Quirkily infectious geek-pop from the States. Prediction: they might be giants.
Hometown: Boston, USA.
The lineup: Dave Munro (lead vocals, acoustic and electric guitar), Richie Munro (drums), Steve Scott (keyboards, effects, electric guitar), Casey Sullivan (lead vocals, bass, mandolin), Kiara Ana (viola).
The background: Air Traffic Controller are one of those bands where it’s really an outlet for the frontman and the others are just there to realise his grandiose/madcap schemes. They’re a solo act in all but name, which isn’t to disparage the other musicians involved, because they do a fine job of turning what might have been tedious acoustic ditties from the nerd-megalomaniac in question – Dave Munro – into fully arranged, and sometimes orchestrally overblown (in a good way), paeans to baroque self-absorption.
Munro was a real-life air traffic controller for the US Navy – true story, apparently – only instead of focusing on the job at hand, i.e. making sure the planes didn’t go careening into the hull of his ship, he spent long hours poring over the minutiae of his past and present romantic liaisons. And so he wrote an album called Nordo. Now, Nordo refers to aircraft that experience radio failure while flying. And if you can decipher what the meaning behind that little metaphor might be vis a vis interpersonal relations, you’re more insightful than us (not difficult, admittedly). Suffice to say we’re imagining that crashing and burning are probably involved, unless that’s just us casting back to our first marriage, which we do a lot.
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Not that Nordo is heavy-going or takes effort to enjoy. Far from it. In fact, it’s a delight almost from end to end, and one can’t help wondering what a record company push over here might achieve (we’re told legions of A&R ladies and gentlemen are already queuing up for their London gig on Tuesday, although it is a tiny venue). Is there a market for upbeat geek-indie-pop with rhythms and melodies so finger-clickingly good you keep Googling that they weren’t already hits from 1986 or featured in a Brat Pack movie scene in which Molly Ringwald jitterbugs in an ironic mid-’80s homage to the original rock’n’roll era? Munro might sing “I’m so miserable” but he’s no US Morrissey – or rather, he is, which means he’s got Hollywood in his blood and he can’t resist allying his every solipsistic aphorism and wry miserablism to the jauntiest power pop this side of the Knack’s My Sharona, all handclaps and woah-ohs. It’s orch-pop for the emotionally challenged, and unashamed with it. Pretty much anywhere you alight on the album you get something good, if you like this sort of thing. “Listen to me: do I sound happy?” Munro sings in his high, keening tenor. To be honest: in your own happy-when-it-rains way, yes. Upbeat despair: yum, our favourite. What can we say? Another One to Watch for 2014. Our shortlist currently contains about 117 names. But hey, that’s us. We’re picky.