Though relatively unknown within its hometown, local quartet Airplanes recently won a slot at the St. Louis stop of this July's Lilith Fair on the strength of the song "Sun," the first track on the Silver Lining EP. It's not hard to hear why the judges were impressed: With a rat-a-tat-tat drum shuffle, rich Mellotron flutes and upbeat acoustic guitar, the rhythms and melody are head-bobbing and infectious. Lyrically, Airplanes songs don't hold up under much scrutiny — you'd be forgiven for wincing at some of the lines in the summer ode "Flip Flops" — but most songs convey a love-this-life attitude that matches the music's sugary confections.
Preferring a modicum of anonymity, Airplanes' two principals, Sarah (vocals) and Sean (guitar, vocals), go by their first names. This fits the vibe of this EP, because these are songs written for best friends and first loves; last names are for strangers. At times the band recalls the sunny pop of the first Rilo Kiley album or the sweetly sung valentines from the defunct Louisiana pop band the Eames Era. But lead singer Sarah's voice has more in common with former teen-beat icons Mandy Moore and Avril Lavigne — she brings a breathy wistfulness to these songs while never losing her bright-eyed sense of wonder. But when she unloads, as on the chorus of "Hello," she has the power to knock down walls.
Her band mates help propel Sarah's rarely faltering voice, while supporting the quiet moments and pushing her to the edge when the mood strikes. The staccato guitar plucks and glockenspiel twinkles that — open "I Love You" turn into the disc's most aggressive passage, that point where a shimmering sway becomes a full-bodied thrash. Moments like this suggest an accomplished musical vocabulary, though the band treads into cliché a little too often. The Auto-Tuned passage on "Useless" sort of cheapens the otherwise tender acoustic ballad. You can't blame Airplanes for wanting to stay current or write big, catchy pop songs, but in several places the reliance on Top 40 pop dynamics neuters otherwise decent tracks.
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