The Habitat of Mildly Vanguardist Synthpop. Sun Airway, Soft Fall.

Jon Barthmus finds himself in the rather enviable position of being tied in with extolled Indiana indie Dead Oceans, and may at the minute be found in the company of Anthony Gonzalez & co. on a whistle-stop US tour. Under the Sun Airway moniker, he's making waves and fraternising with all the right kinds and whilst the project's successes are yet to dazzle with any great disorientation, his energies are being channelled into the right sorts of endeavours. But these eventualities are all especially stunning as sophomore full-length, Soft Fall, is something of a sonic gallimaufry of sorts that's never quite as ethereal as the all-pervasive haziness would have us believe, nor as comforting a listen as its soft cushions of sound may purport. The inessential glint of Laketop Swimmers may even feasibly be deemed the Habitat of mildly vanguardist synthpop.

And that's the place from which my primary qualm with Sun Airway arises: were Soft Fall a shade it'd be a non-committal off-white; were it a wood it'd be a cleanly sanded oak; were it a lamp it'd glow with a gently inoffensive luminescence. It's aesthetically pleasing, undoubtedly, although it is found lacking in both definition and innovation. And that after instrumental intro Activity 1 promises so much. For Soft Fall pertains to the masteries of compositions considered both classic, and classical. Barthmus diligently landscaped his meticulously contoured sounds, only to allow them to decompose and grow back with the fertilising aid of a four-piece string ensemble. He would then inject the instances of gelid electronica that crackle throughout, and this initial minute serves as the vindication of such technique. Brimming with the exotic beauty of Eye Contact, it's a vivid reintroduction. Without doubt.

However from here on Barthmus loses this early focus. The breakneck balladry of Close is a little like I Am Kloot's John Bramwell ham-handedly tinkering with chillwave, its lyrics as vapid as the "empty sky" they reference. The line "You see you've never known love like this before/ I said I've never known loneliness like this" seems to be stuck on an increasingly exasperating repeat, as his swooning coos of "I try to get close to you" disenchant ever a little more. The cosmic guitar lines that phase in pluck out a slight reason to retune into its squall-like bluster, but it's never quite enough.

New Movements fares a little better, as Barthmus' enduring proclivity for immaculate production again amplifies the desired effect of his strings. They're pretty swoonsome, truth be known, although again it's vocally quite galling. Part lackadaisical lad rock, and part graceful Sufjan soprano it's six of one and half a dozen of the other equating to an odd shortchanging. Moreover, its overall feel is again somewhat flimsy: "If I follow you over/ Will you follow me over, and over, and over, and over..?" goes Barthmus' heinously repetitive rhetoric. I think it's at this juncture OK to say that a pioneering wordsmith he ain't.

The quite brilliant blip-fest that is Activity 2 attests to this with a sort of startling sureness that makes the question as to why Soft Fall was ever imbued with any vocals whatsoever a wholly baffling one. It's one of the most accomplished instrumental cut and paste jobs since, well, Since I Left You and indeed it's arguably accomplished enough to be bracketed in with The Avalanches' one and only. Cinematic, and expansive, and compelling, and immediately involving it's contemporary composition at its finest; minimalism fleshed out to maximum effect. It evidences no extraneousness – just pure magnificence. A sprinkling of this is carried on over into Wild Palms and, whilst preferable to both the band and Bruce Wagner's sci-fi bore of the same name, it sees Barthmus revert to all that superfluous moaning and groaning previous. "I dagger through the deep blue/ Just to reach your wild palms" he blares on the blandest of choruses, his voice here further removed from feeling. It makes for a peculiar juxtaposition, therefore, that his musics be so richly textured only for his voice to be found so lacking in finish. Musically, much of this is pristine. Vocally, most of this is poor.

Furthermore, Barthmus' work is at its most lucid when it's at its most languid. Thus when Sun Airway accelerate, any impact diminishes as it does quite drastically on both the title track and the segueing Black Noise. Then: Activity 3. Another voiceless wonder, it ups the ante and recalls the swelling, electrocised modern baroque of Daedelus. It's as calculated as anything Archimedes ever came out with, and demonstrates for one final time how these interludes of sorts lamentably function as intervals in place of main attractions. Soft Fall could have been a quite remarkable EP. It is, instead, a most unmemorable LP. Which is something of a shame, really.