Monday, March 18, 2013

The Airborne Toxic Event Tells Secrets

The Airborne Toxic Event
Indie rock/pop band The Airborne Toxic Event have had their share of hardships and successes since coming together seven years ago in Los Angeles. The band itself was forged out of pain, with singer-songwriter Mikel Jollett's intense songwriting driven by being diagnosed with a genetic autoimmune disease, his mother being diagnosed with cancer, and a breakup with someone he had once considered a soulmate.

Even so, it would take some time before anyone would hear these songs. Daren Taylor (drums) and Jollett would spend the summer rehearsing the material before the duo eventually added Anna Bulbrook (viola, keys, tambourine), Noah Harmon (bass), and Steven Chen (guitar, keys) to complete their lineup.

Two years later, The Airborne Toxic Event released its 2008 debut that earned reviews on either side of extreme. Although the band defended itself against criticism, it wasn't long before they learned breakout debuts are difficult to maintain. Their sophomore album seemed to trade out indie for mainstream.

The Secret EP hints at a return to the band's indie roots.

Although the dynamic instrumental arrangements are even bigger at times on the recently released The Secret EP, the lyrical depth and resonating vocal power foreshadows what will likely be a brilliant third album. Set for release sometime in spring, Such Hot Blood is their first effort with three-time Grammy Award-winning producer, engineer and songwriter/musician Jacquire King (Kings Of Leon, Cold War Kids, Tom Waits).

Although the first single to be released was the contemplative acoustic single Timeless, it's the rest of the four-track EP that strikes all the right chords. The Secret is a bristling relationship song, telling the story of a wayward soul driving around with nothing to do except imagining his former lover with someone else. The angst of it is caught in this fan captured video.

Aside from lyrics that take a nod from the band's biggest hit, Sometime Around Midnight, The Secret captures the compositional maturity of Jollett and his bandmates. There is an anthemic quality about the song, but it remains largely inventive in recapturing its indie roots.

The Storm puts the band on the opposite trajectory. It's mostly about reconciliation and maybe the realization that the person who sticks around deserves better than someone who runs away. With its pronounced guitar, backed by equal parts bass and percussion, The Storm can be cast as a sharply polished one-off rock ballad or dynamic pop anthem. Your choice.

The Airborne Toxic Event
The fourth track, Safe, sticks the emphasis on shaky relationships. It also takes advantage of Bulbrook, bringing her out of backing vocals for a moment. Her viola also stands out in Safe more than any other song too. But equally more memorable is that Safe stands out as the most layered track of the four, particularly in the chorus.

Although an easy target for criticism, The Airborne Toxic Event puts some serious distance behind the notion that it might get too wrapped up in developing a persona instead of composing solid music. It might even be why the band or the label decided to put out an EP so close to the album's release. The EP might push off any pre-emptive negatives.

With the possible exception of Timeless, the band does a fine job straddling the sometimes hard line between alternative rock and pop, indie and mainstream. But it doesn't much matter as long as it sounds right. And mostly, The Secret does.

The Secret EP Sweeps 7.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although relationship theme tracks might feel tired across a whole album, these four tracks by The Airborne Toxic Event (a.k.a. TATE) feel a bit more timeless in capturing it from four different perspectives. There is an earnestness, angst, hesitation, and abandon served up in just over 17 minutes.

The Secret EP by The Airborne Toxic Event is available at Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes. Keep up with the band on Facebook for release and tour information.
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