Airhead (Rob McAndrews) wants to dance. Believe, his first release for 1-800-Dinosaur, is dead-set on making you enjoy yourself while you get more than a little grimy. Last year’s debut LP For Years (on R&S) was recorded over the course of four years, which was easy to hear in the album’s mishmash spectrum of bedroom electronica and weird beat-driven jams. Seeds of McAndrews’ new sound were sprinkled throughout in the rattling thump of “Fault Line,” the unhinged samples of “Pyramid Lake,” and the syrupy latter half of “Azure Race.” But where those tracks were dampened or superseded by the chiller material throughout, Believe won’t settle for small reactions. No more stoned-out head-bobbing on your couch; this is music for the dancefloor.
The EP makes more sense in the context of new label 1-800-Dinosaur, which came together from a series of on-tour afterparty DJ sets by McAndrews, James Blake, former R&S helmer Dan Foats, and Ben Assister. The collective later recreated these sets with 1-800-Dinosaur nights at dark London nightclub Plastic People, spawning the label in 2013 and evidently inspiring a new focus for McAndrews’ output as Airhead.
As on For Years, we’re again given a wide range of sounds that nevertheless wear the distinct mark of a producer who loves what he’s doing. Believe moves quickly and makes you want to move. The EP is a compilation of tracks that have trickled out since the beginning of this year on BBC Radio mixes. It was released on his 25th birthday, which might be why the release has a mood of culmination and celebration. You get the sense that this 12-inch is just a snapshot of McAndrews hitting a hot streak, each track tapping into new zones for Airhead, maybe designed for a different DJ set than the one before it.
The spirit of the opening title track is its incessant rallying cry/plea, “You got to believe in something.” The sample of crackling vinyl soul persists through heavy bass drops, shimmering organs, whistling, and an 808 heartbeat. Whatever that something is for McAndrews (dancing? crowds? movement?), the song’s classical house vibe makes you want to believe in anything. It’s an amazing tone-setter that doesn’t have to sound like a statement, even if it signals a new mode for Airhead, because it’s so caught up in its own buoyant groove.
The next two songs take a turn for the abrasive, but don’t quite menace and don’t derail that groove. “Shirin” wouldn’t sound out of place on Yeezus: its dirty percussion bangs along with 1-UP bleeps and heavily processed trap fanfare. The tweaked-out synth brass ratchets up to Lex Luger-meets-Arca levels of intensity before falling away. Delayed drums and distorted bells are the false start to the surreal “Shekure,” which alternates faraway water drops and a bare-bones beat with torrents of abrasive industrial screeching over a suffocating wall of low-end. The song somehow lulls you into a calm after all that noise, before hitting you again with the grind. It’s not the kind of grind to wear you out emotionally — there’s little dread on this EP — but the kind that draws you into your body and into its zone.
Closer “Hundred Years” asks playfully, but not without bite, “Whatchu expect me to do for you?” As Airhead switches up his sound again with eerie synth phrases and screwed vocals, the question seems fair, self-aware but not self-conscious. As things seem to be wrapping up, the song closes with a huge wash of droning synth halfway between collapse and ecstatic high. At only 16 minutes, Believe still manages to wring the sweat out of us and make an impression. It’s too early in the producer’s career to call the EP a reinvention, but it delivers on the promise lurking beneath the often understated strangeness of For Years, that McAndrews is a producer who won’t sit still and has little to answer for generically. Airhead has another 12-inch set for release in September that the press release calls club-ready. After this, I don’t know what I expect him to do for me, but I can only hope he still sounds as fully-charged as he does here.