Oh, to have been a fly on the wall for the conversation between Bjorn Strid and David Andersson of Soilwork on their North American tour in 2007. It was here that the two supposedly first hatched their plan to streamline their killer vocals and nifty guitar wizardry into a throwback rock band paying tribute to everyone using a guitar between 1975 and 1985. “Hey David, do you like denim shorts?” “You betcha Bjorn! How about pedotaches?” “There’s nothing better in my view.” 13 years and countless bangers later, album five called Aeromantic is set to be unleashed on the world, spunking overdriven guitars, cheesy synths and every 80s cliché as far as they can reach. Despite the inherent lightness in the The Night Flight Orchestra (“NFO”) sound, NFO actually holds a special place in my heart. Since I began exploring music for myself in my early teens, one of my favorite feelings is when I introduce my dad to something new and he also enjoys it. There are myriad examples but NFO is one of the most prominent and we are both anxious to hear material when it’s announced.
Aeromantic hardly breaks new ground for these excitable Swedes. By this, I mean that it is seemingly purpose-built to mainline dopamine directly to my brain, being, as it is, more 80s than the 80s. Each NFO release reaches deeper into this era, and Aeromantic nails the schmaltzy, overblown tone which has come to characterize the retrospective view of it. “Curves” is a brilliantly-titled, and brilliant, song which features music to match the sexual overtones of its name; the sexy lead boasts the smoothest of grooves and the almost-saccharine synths hammer in the exaggerated approach. The last vestiges of guitar-led, 70s-influenced, ‘legit’ rock are truly obliterated now. “Curves” is the sort of output which ‘true’ metalheads in the late 80s and early 90s put a lot of effort into hating. But while I admire bands such as Def Leppard and Whitesnake, I can’t help but love NFO. Are they original? Of course they aren’t but originality isn’t a prerequisite for good music.
As ever, the tried and true pop-rock song-writing is very largely on point. I’ve mentioned “Curves” but the true jewel in the crown is “Divinyls,” which is a certified banger and one of the best tracks ever written by NFO. It does nothing new but has a great, nifty guitar lead, an endlessly hummable keyboard melody and a chorus which has plagued my grey matter since it was released as a single in early January (“TELL ME IS IT FAR, NOW I’M IN THE DARK / WAITING FOR THE LIGHT TO CHANGE. / GLANCING AT THE STARS, LIVING BY YOUR OWN, / IS IT TIME TO BREAK THE CHAINS?”). The title track similarly slaps, utilizing bouncing piano chords and its backing singers to forge a mammoth chorus. “Dead of Winter” closes things strongly too, opening with a pulsing synthwave passage, progressing through a headbangable groove before reaching some of Bjorn’s most impactful, impassioned vocals.
Since their introduction as full-time backing singers, Anna-Mia Bonde and Anna Brygård have continued to impress me. I would love to hear Bjorn relinquish some of his singing control to them, as, per usual, they largely operate to harmonize with, or counter-point, Bjorn’s key chorus melodies. A song or two of their own would bolster NFO’s musical diversity and amplify the supposed feminist credentials of their recent records. And of the women of which they sing, I’d love to know the well from which the band draws their female names. There are always some corkers; previously, we’ve heard about Stella (“Stella Ain’t No Dove”), Jane (“Lady Jane”), Heather (“The Heather Reports”), “Jennie” and “Jospehine.” Aeromantic further contributes “Carmencita” to this pool (“Carmencita Seven”). Keep your eyes peeled for the AMG sweepstakes for female names to be used prior to future releases.
Despite the fun I’ve had with this album and in writing this review, I’m nevertheless forced to concede that each of their prior records had more consistent quality. “Divinyls” is a worldie but I query how many other tracks would merit place on a ‘best-of’ album. NFO albums are typically around an hour in length but this album feels longer than the others as its peaks are generally not as high. “Taurus” lets the side down slightly; its chorus is less rousing, and I’ve found the melodies forgettable. I query whether the album would really be worse without this track. Moreover, each of the first three records had tracks which I didn’t initially love but which grew to be some of my favorites. Examples include “Glowing City Madness,” “The Heather Reports” and “Something Mysterious.” However, over a couple dozen listens to Aeromantic, my initial favorites have held their ground and my less preferred tracks have remained so. I wonder whether this speaks to the marginally weaker song-writing more recently.
The position of Aeromantic in NFO’s discography is sadly likely to be near the bottom but a weaker release by these guys will undoubtedly still be one of my most listened-to albums of the year. I’ve made complaints but they’re an incredibly difficult band to dislike given their insane hooks and earnest pursuit of a simpler musical time. In summary? I’m still fucking pumped to see them for the second time next month, and can easily recommend Aeromantic to fans of their prior work, album oriented rock and pedotaches in general.