Them Airs: “Union Suit XL” Review

by Matt Jarosinski

With their fourth album, Union Suit XL, New Haven Connecticut’s Them Airs delivers an eclectic and adventurous love letter to abnormal post-punk of both present and the days of yore. 

Before I go any further with my praise of this album, I must disclose that I am definitely the target audience for this release. For example, I own five different copies of Devo’s debut. I also share an almost fraternal connection to my CD copy of Thinking Fellers Union Local 282’s 1994 masterpiece Strangers Of The Universe, which I will also admit to having blasted at the level of a finable offense on my commutes to and from high school. 

With that being said, Them Airs are not shy about conveying their influences within their work. Fans of post-punk’s more atypical releases from all eras may be able to decipher how imprints from acts such as This Heat, Wire, Women, Crack Cloud, Deerhoof, and the aforementioned Thinking Fellers appear all over Union Suit XL and its 12 astute and idiosyncratic tracks. 

“Reception Desk”

As much as I could pontificate about the influences that make Union Suit XL what it is, it is also important to mention that the album is beyond a doubt more than the sum of its parts. Despite the acts I could liken the album to, the sound of Union Suit XL is approached with such vigor and inventiveness that the album decidedly comes across as fresh. No track is better evidence of this than the opener, “Reception Desk,” a perfect primer for the 35 minutes of surrealist experimental rock the listener is about to partake in. This track is energetic and gripping, making its four and a half minute runtime wiz by in the best way possible. 

“Innovation Leads to Distinction”

The album also features cuts that are a bit more lethargic; take the track “Innovation Leads To Distinction” as proof. This track is bittersweet with an angular approach that is both inescapable and palpable. 

“Food Pyramid”

In most circumstances, I would suppose that hearing that a track as good as “Food Pyramid” is less than two minutes long would leave me at the very least unsatisfied, if not somewhat annoyed. Despite its relatively short runtime, “Food Pyramid” unfolds perfectly and wastes not a second in delivering its ebullient vibe.

“Wade/Cull”

Moving on from there, the track “Wade/Cull,” is unquestionably one of the album’s strongest tracks. Featuring multiple sudden shifts in both tone and tempo, this track serves as another example of how Union Suit XL is an astounding achievement in angularity. 

“Burning Participant”

As the album brings itself closer to its finish, tracks like “Burning Participant” display that underneath the tangible quirkiness of the album are  songs that are built off of infectious melodies and venturesome songwriting.

“Corpse at UMass Dartmouth”

The last track that I will choose to highlight, “Corpse at UMass Dartmouth,” is one of the most raucous possible ways I have ever seen a post-punk album concluded. If I must go back to artist comparisons, this track invokes the same kind of antsy fun found within dance-punk / post-hardcore hybrids like Q and Not U and Black Eyes, with skiddish shouty vocals delivered over spirited and bouncy instrumentation. 

As I write this review, it is two months into 2020. Despite this, I can not imagine a situation in which Union Suit XL does not hold one of the top slots in my favorite albums of the year come December. In fact, I will go one step further then that: right now, I believe that Union Suit XL has already proven to me that it’s worthy of watching as one of the decade’s finest post-punk albums. Am I being too preemptive? I certainly don’t think so, because of Union Suit XL’s masterfully crafted composition and direction I can’t recommend it highly enough for fans of any band that has ever even played a single note on a guitar.