Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In October of 2015, I lauded Airplane Mode, an outfit from Midland Texas, as an independent band worth keeping close tabs on. Their record at the time, ‘Slate,’ was a superb excursion through their talent and chemistry as a band. Now, over a year later, we shine our gaze on them once again, for Airplane Mode, now calling themselves AP Mode, have released a new album: ‘Kids Eat Free.’
The long absence of work from AP Mode is a result of the members all leaving to different colleges around Texas. Earlier this year, however, they reunited for this set of songs and a few live shows. Thus, it’s not clear whether or not ‘Kids Eat Free’ will be the group’s swan song or not. If it is, though, it’ll be a fascinating one. Let’s dig deep into ‘Kids Eat Free.’
At first glance, ‘Kids Eat Free’ is a dramatic departure from its predecessor. The album has a dichotomy between very short and very long tracks, the art was drawn by a preschool class, and the opening, ‘Class,’ is a spoken word introduction that takes place in a classroom as a teacher attempts to keep his students engaged and in line. Once you hit the meat of the record, however, it definitely has noticeable traces of ‘Slate,’ the band’s last collection of songs.
Like before, AP Mode is a balancing act of several genre influences. At its core, it’s alternative rock, but there are glimmers of indie, electronic, and jazz rock. For example, ‘A Place Where a River Runs Through’ highlights Joey Vetter on drums. The percussion is the forefront of the sound on the track, and the intensity and complexity of the performance borders jazz drum influence. Lead vocalist Lewis Grimes is then laden in an effect that gives him an electronic-esque sound. It’s a compelling first song for the record.
‘Wait & See’ is, arguably, one of the best songs on ‘Kids Eat Free.’ It’s actually infectiously catchy, and it’s doused in the same atmospheric reverb and effects that its predecessor, ‘A Place Where a River Runs Through,’ is. Last year, I compared AP Mode to Neva Dinova, the cult classic indie rock outfit from Saddle Creek Records. That sound is still eerily noticeable, and AP Mode should be targeting the despondent Neva Dinova fans who haven’t had a new release in years.
‘Movies & the Mind of Peyton’ incorporates a bit of a blues influence, and shines brightest as a showcase of the lead guitarist. When the track explodes at the halfway point, it makes for one of the most engaging efforts on the record. The snappy ‘No More Ubers in ATX’ follows, a bizarre instrumental interlude that wanders about in a reverberated atmosphere of bliss. It’s a great jam.
‘I Miss Airplane Mode’ is another relatively short tune, but it packs a good punch. Also, as one of the internet’s resident Kanye West fanatics, I can’t help but adore ‘I Miss Airplane Mode’ for its on-the-nose parody of West’s ‘I Miss The Old Kanye.’ Hell, the band even mimics West’s song structure in the final minute of the song. It’s absolutely hilarious, and a perfect lead-in to ‘Road Song,’ a more melancholy jaunt through more introspective lyricism. (It also houses one of the most lovely guitar performances on the record, the stunning solo in the latter half.)
‘Kids Eat Free’ offers its longest excursion with ‘Lightning & Thunder,’ a more experimental track that calls upon old timey radio samples to create a beautifully unique landscape. The sample voiceovers are somewhat reminiscent of ‘Revolution Nine,’ with the obvious exception of ‘Lightning & Thunder’ actually having a beat and melody. It’s a ten minute track, however, that passes very quickly. The jam is engaging, and for once, I can’t knock an indie act for delving into this long of a song duration.
The final two tracks of ‘Kids Eat Free’ are some of its best, starting off with the excellent ‘For the Better.’ It’s one of the best compositions on the LP, I’d argue, and I love the rise and fall of the instrumentation around the main hooks. The distorted, searing electric guitar on the title track is unforgettable, too, and the harmonies between Grimes and his band are great. The album then ends with similar classroom banter to its introduction.
It’s a damn good thing that AP Mode got back together for another record, because ‘Kids Eat Free’ is their best effort to date. It eclipses ‘Slate’ in every way, and that was already quite a good album. Go give it a spin. It’s worth your time.