Sun Airway’s Jon Barthmus doesn’t aim small. Soft Fall, the Philly native’s sophomore album, is symphonic electro-pop in the most literal sense, blending fragmented orchestral loops with glittery synth pulses and moody ambience – capturing the grandiose sweep of M83′s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming in half the running time, without the spoken word bits and puzzling interludes about frogs.
Barthmus’ 2010 debut, Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier, covered similar sonic territory but was hampered by its lo-fi basement fidelity. Soft Fall, however, sparkles blindingly from note one, as opener “Activity 1″ swells from misty strings to bright layers of programming; on “Close,” synth pads and arena-sized drum flourishes blur into one massive tidal-wave of sound. But Barthmus is more than just a sonic architect – he’s also developed into a more refined, inventive songwriter: “Wild Palms” is a dizzying heart-stopper, unfurling jittery string loops under a tongue-tied hook that refuses to sit still. Even when the sounds threaten to swallow the songs, you can always feel a heartbeat.