Review Summary: The Airborne Toxic Event shows promise in between songs filled with recycled material of other bands
The Airborne Toxic Event was formed after singer Mikel Jollet experienced a week from Hell. In one week, Jollet’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, he was diagnosed with autoimmune disease, and the relationship he was in came to an end. To cope, Jollet began playing guitar and writing songs. Months later, The Airborne Toxic Event was formed.
The band’s lineup consists of Jollet (vocals, guitar, keyboards) Steve Chen (guitar, keyboards), Noah Harmon (bass), Anna Bulbrook (viola, tambourine, backing vocals) and Daren Taylor (drums). Given the band’s unique lineup of instruments, namely the viola, one would expect a unique, perhaps atmospheric sound. And given the history of the songwriting, one would also expect songs filled to the brim with emotion. Instead the band’s debut album mainly consists of songs where they sound unsure of themselves.
On The Airborne Toxic Event’s debut album, the band’s main problem is their struggle to define themselves. At times, the music has an airy atmosphere mixed with distorted guitars that creates a unique sound. Other times they sound like a reincarnation of Joy Division or a band imitating The Strokes. The Airborne Toxic Event prevail when they sound like themselves. Take for example, the intro to opener “Wishing Well”. The band creates a mix of keyboards, viola, and delay-heavy guitars and comes together and makes a beautiful ensemble. However on such songs like “Gasoline” the band displays serious Strokes worshipping that brings nothing new or interesting to the table.
The same problem can be directed at Mikel Jollet. Vocally, he cannot seem to find his true identity, which is somewhere between Conor Oberst, Julian Casablancas and Ian Curtis. On “Papillon“, Jollet sounds like Johnny Cash during the verses and then sings like Mikel Jollet during the chorus. When Jollet sings in his own, pain-ridden voice, the music succeeds most.
When the band plays their own music and desists any replicating of their obvious influences, they succeed tremendously. “Sometime Around Midnight” which also cracked the Top 40 for a few weeks, is namely the best song on the album. The band plays their own unique style, somewhat like Silversun Pickups, at times calm, and others frantic. Jollet also alternates between smooth, unruffled singing, to borderline screaming, that makes the single the most emotional of any of the songs.
Overall, The Airborne Toxic Event’s self-titled debut really shows the band digging for their identity. Most songs on the album show the band playing recycled riffs and melodies from other bands of the past two decades. Other times, they hit their stride and show that they may be a band to look for in the future.
-Wishing Well, Sometime Around Midnight, Something New, Innocence