Air Combat’s The Story Of The Boy With The Stolen Name is something I could have used back when I was a moody teenager. It’s not that I don’t have my dark moments now, but there is something about the level of angst and pure energy in this music that suggests that these are brand new feelings that the singer is not equipped to deal with. Even with only six tracks, this album takes on themes of loss, suicide, self-loathing, love, and crushing disappointment. Not everything on here works, in fact, the whole thing comes close to collapsing in self-pity, but the sheer ambition is insanely admirable!
I’m not sure if this was intended as a concept album, but there is a sense of unity between these songs and their lyrics. If you read the words separately from the music, it’s evident that key phrases are repeated and that within the frantic rambling there is a coherent re-telling of a traumatic incident. From what I can surmise, it concerns an aimless 25-year-old and an equally troubled girl who he has recently fallen in love with. The details are purposely vague, but it becomes evident by “My Third Death This Year” that in a deep depression she throws herself in front of a train. Although there are instances of optimism, it is clear that he is controlled by anger and in defeat wishes, he had the sense earlier to realize that we are all doomed to die alone.
Although the ending is a bit heavy-handed, the storytelling should be commended. Most narratives within a rock format end up bloated and pretentious but this album is straightforward, concise and emotionally rewarding. Its plot isn’t really the point, it’s how perfectly the words reflect the real-life emotions that come with hating yourself and losing the only person who gave you any value. Not all of it is pretty or particularly clever but then again neither are inescapable negative thoughts. I admit the line “I’m not quite a joke but I’m not quite a man” is something I have thought to myself on a daily basis.
The music is the appropriate mixture of emo-punk-pop that you would expect with a story like this. At times it even reminds me of Fucked Up’s hardcore punk-opera David Comes To Life; relentless in its aggression but not above a soaring hook either. “Distances/Smokes” even features two catchy refrains, and “Trigger Warning (Falling On Deaf Ears) boasts a powerful vocal performance from Sheldon Stenning, whose screaming and twitchy inflexions really give the impression of a man already on the edge. The lack of tonal diversity is a bit of a problem though. I get that this is a seriously dark story, but that shouldn’t take away from experimentation in song-writing. Add on the fact that lines are repeated and it becomes difficult to remember which songs are which.
All in all, The Story Of The Boy With The Stolen Name is an emotionally engaging work that gets better with each listen and because it’s so short, it doesn’t run the risk of losing your attention. In that way, it acts as a sudden burst of rage when you need it most. You have to be in the mood for it though, otherwise, it can come off as a bit whiny, although that can be said of most songs within the emo genre. I hope that Air Combat keep new telling stories and keep growing and changing as songwriters. God knows they already have the teen market covered.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Lia Davis