When a band closely embodies the spirit of an influential (but somewhat underground) musical sub-genre such as shoegaze, it's difficult not to judge said group's music against the genre's originators. Case in point: Chicago's Airiel, which has been crafting noisy, swirly, shoegaze-inspired pop since the late '90s. The band's full-length debut, The Battle of Sealand, combines the best characteristics of shoegaze, Britpop and art-rock pioneers such as Ride, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Catherine Wheel and Stereolab. But Airiel manages to make a believable, catchy and tasteful statement, with sugary pop numbers layered with fluffy keyboard fuzz and an icing of feedbacky, flanged-out guitars. And that's what really makes Airiel a relevant band: It knows how to craft strong and inspiring pop tunes that really get under your skin, making the noisy nostalgia trip to the early '90s either just an added bonus or quite possibly a moot point, depending on your perspective.
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