Something like a better-adjusted Feelies with loosened wigs or Yo La Tengo on a coffee rush, New York’s Airlines perforated its brisk, understated rhythm guitar pop with pure, sustained distortion leads. In “10,000 Days,” John Neilson’s guitar work recalls Robert Fripp’s evanescent sound paintings. Singer/guitarist John Tanzer (ex-Ex-Lion Tamers, the Wire cover band containing Jim DeRogatis that toured with its idols in 1987), guitarist/singer Joe Arcidiacono and Neilson all write, providing stylistic diversity within the quintet’s relatively narrow framework and making Airlines an uneven debut. Neilson’s “Steady Goes” is gorgeous and intense, with a folky undercurrent; Arcidiacono’s “Interval” bends the Feelies influence back to one of its sources (Television), and Tanzer’s “No. 2” owes some of its herkyjerk tempo to early Talking Heads. But “Weekend,” recorded live, is an annoying gripe about waiting for the phone to ring.
Several years after Airlines got off the ground in 1988, Tanzer launched another band, the Giant Mums, which actually beat the parent group to market. Compared to Airlines, the trio has stranger concepts (“Minutes Later, Nothing Gets Out Every Stain” and “Sheep in the Blacklight Room” are only two of the odd titles on The Giant Mums; the chorus of “We Made It Sing” begins “meow meow meow”) as well as a singular sensibility and, for the most part, an aggressive, jagged guitar attack. Wharton Tiers’ production makes the most of intriguing compositions, shaping the band’s fill-the-void playing and Tanzer’s singing into moderate wind-shear excursions that keep moving forward.