“Thinking of You,” the final track on Air Traffic Controller’s new album NORDO begins just like any other folky love song. Bandleader Dave Munro quietly strums his acoustic guitar, languidly composing a simple song “for a lovely lady” while spending a rainy day inside. Then the orchestra comes in. Trumpets blare a regal fanfare, cymbals crash, and glockenspiels chime brightly while Munro’s falsetto climbs high above the sudden explosion of chamber pop. It’s an unexpected transition, but it works, and it’s a moment that explains what NORDO is all about.
Munro began writing songs while working as an actual Navy air traffic controller overseas, and it’s not hard to imagine him dreaming up pop tunes during the intermittent breaks in his stressful work day. Becoming the bandleader of his own imaginary pop orchestra was a way to cope with the everyday struggles that came from being miles away from home. On Air Traffic Controller’s latest album, Munro reproduces that experience for listeners, scoring the daydreams of a normal guy with a grandiose soundtrack that elevates the mundane to the sublime. He sings about rushing out for work in the morning, trying to remember the origins of a specific movie quotation, and needing to take a paid vacation just to keep himself sane. All along, he’s accompanied by handclaps, church bells, strings, and horns in addition to the standard rock band set“up. There’s even a forty-piece orchestra featured on the standout track “Blame.” These extravagant arrangements don’t so much transform his quotidian musings as embrace the beauty of their averageness. Munro knows that when you’re facing down a personal challenge, sometimes it really does feel like you need a forty-piece orchestra to back you up. Of course, great arrangements only take an album so far. It’s the skill with which they are executed that really makes the parts on NORDO stand out. The core band, comprised of Munro, his brother Richie, Steve Scott, Casey Sullivan, Alison Shipton, and Kiara Perico, combines flawlessly with the studio orchestra to complete the pop spectacle. On NORDO, Air Traffic Controller relates the narratives of an average life with such exuberant grandiosity that even the most monotonous aspects of a normal day seem worth celebration. As Munro sings, “Sometimes you don’t know if it’s real / Or just some kind of magic show / So all you can do / Is pretend it’s all true.” For Air Traffic Controller, it’s that type of magical belief in the splendor of every little moment that makes life not just bearable, but meaningful.
Pick up NORDO now at Air Traffic Controller’s Bandcamp page, and check out the video for “Hurry Hurry” below.
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