Airbag – The Century of the Self (Album Review)

Review of the new Airbag album ‘The Century of the Self’

by Steve Joyce

My first listen of the new Airbag album ‘The Century of the Self’ was at the end of a hectic and stressful work week. Forty-seven minutes later, I was in a state of blissful relaxation. This is an album that truly soothes the soul and as a listener new to Airbag’s music, I’m already a massive fan!

For the uninitiated, Norway’s Airbag was formed in the mid-2000s by high school friends Asle Tostrup (vocals) and Bjørn Riis (guitars). They quickly received critical acclaim for their distinctive blend of progressive, ambient and alternative rock, influenced by their musical heroes including Pink Floyd and Radiohead. (“Airbag” of course, is the opening song from Radiohead’s 1997 masterpiece, “OK Computer”.)

By 2011, the band had settled into a strong, confident line-up of Tostrup, Riis and drummer Henrik Bergan Fossum and it’s this trio who have crafted “The Century of the Self”. Comprising five songs written between May 2022 and January 2024, the album affirms Airbag’s status as one of the most important bands to emerge from Norway’s progressive scene over recent decades.

From the initial sparse notes of opener “Dysphoria”, to the emotion-charged guitar solo coda of album closer “Tear It Down”, this album is utterly captivating. It’s accessible and easy to listen to, if that makes sense – your brain does not need a strenuous workout to feel the music. This is unquestionably a good thing when life can be a chaotic maelstrom and some progressive music can be an exercise in technical one-upmanship.

Although Airbag have a distinctive musical identity, the Floyd and (early) Radiohead influences are evident, and there are shades of Porcupine Tree too. Any fans of these legendary bands will find something to enjoy in “The Century of the Self”.

There are passages of the album where the music ‘feels’ simple, but this is deceptive and belies the artistry that goes into composing songs of such layered, delicate beauty. It’s a well-worn idiom, but this is a listening experience that truly reveals more depth with each successive listen.

On the journey the listener is taken, they encounter considerable diversity of mood – there’s a dynamic drum and bass workout (“Erase”), radio-friendly rock grooves (“Tyrants and Kings”), plaintive acoustics (“Awakening”), and epic, wailing guitar solos (“Tear It Down” and “Erase”, again).

Singer Tostrup has an emotional and haunting vocal style and is a master of less-is-more economy which lets the music breathe. There’s an affecting melancholy to his performance which is especially moving on “Dysphoria”.

All musicians are on stellar form on this record but I will pay special tribute to Riis’ bass guitar playing. It’s amongst the best I can remember hearing, evoking iconic prog bassists Chris Squire, Roger Waters and Geddy Lee – but I also hear parallels with tasteful players like Paul McCartney, Sting and Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth. Refreshingly high in the mix, the bass propels the music with a gorgeous tone and is packed with melodic punch.

This album is like reflexology for the brain. The immersive music is relaxing to listen to and a perfect antidote to the frustrations of modern life. I strongly advise everyone to switch off the television news and the company smartphone, forget about the world’s troubles, leave the day job behind and let Airbag’s extraordinary album transport you to a better place.

Released on June 21st, 2024 on Karisma Records
Order here:

1. Dysphoria 10:39
2. Tyrants and Kings 6:47
3. Awakening 6:41
4. Erase 7:52
5. Tear It Down 14:59

Asle Tostrup (Vocals)
Henrik Bergan Fossum (Drums)
Bjørn Riis (Guitar)

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