Airbird & Napolian - Mr. Foolish

Adam Ward reflects on the troubles of collaboration and the bi-coastal duo’s debut album.

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A thing I’ve been struggling with lately is how to effectively collaborate with other people. I was deft enough in college to sidestep most group projects and get by on my own knowledge and effort. In the post-college independence I “enjoyed” while job searching, I had few to rely on but myself. But now as a full-time employed human adult in an office setting, I find myself having to work with others collaboratively more often. I don’t like relinquishing control, and sometimes it’s hard for me to let go of an idea and trust the judgement of someone else.

What I’m getting at is, I think most people are generally the same way. Working solo is just more efficient when it comes to creative projects. Which is why a solo electronic producer is so much more common than producer duos. Airbird & Napolian are the aliases of two artists from opposite coasts. The former is the head of Driftless Recordings, and had previously collaborated with Oneohtrix Point Never as Ford & Lopatin. The latter is similarly tied to OPN, having released his last LP on Lopatin’s record label Software.

The duo debuted two and a half years ago with “In the Zone,” a crisp, sublime piece of electronic pop that referenced chillwave in a tasteful way. They promised more music soon, and then fell silent save for one more song released shortly after. Part of it could have to do with other projects taking precedence, or maybe the distance between the two made it harder to work. It’s a symptom of collaboration.

Regardless, Mr. Foolish is here, and the two explore varying styles of dance music over the album’s 33 minutes. From Saint Pepsi-ish disco house on “Special,” to cheesy stadium power-pop on “Go to the Sun,” a song that sounds entirely like Hellogoodbye, a band I never thought I’d be wistfully referencing in 2015. The instrumental “J.Park” shows Napolian’s chops, a bouncy hip-hop beat pulling the album into the shadows much like his last solo album Incursio did.

Most tracks end up sounding more like Airbird productions than a collaboration between the two, but where Airbird crafts his joyous dance music out of cold and grimy New York City, every song here shines like a Southern California beach, the type of setting Napolian brings from his Los Angeles home. The ferociousness of his production work for A$AP Ferg or Kelela doesn’t shine through as much on Mr. Foolish, but the demeanor of the his home dominates whatever setting Ford brought to the table.

And that’s the thing about working with someone else. It’s never going to be 50-50. I learned that the hard way in college group projects, and I’m still learning that now in how I contribute to projects and ideas in my full-time job. But hey, you give some (usually a lot) and you take some (usually less) and in the end, hopefully you’re left with something half as good as Mr. Foolish.

Mr. Foolish is out now via Cascine Records.

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