The Battle of Sealand (Highwheel Records)

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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