Review Summary: You were just always talking about changing...
The Airborne Toxic Event were a hot new commodity when “Sometime Around Midnight” blew up, looking to become the next big thing within the indie rock world. Subsequent singles such as “Wishing Well” and “Changing” proved the band were talented at tackling things ranging from angsty breakup jams to peppy feel-good tunes. Then Such Hot Blood
happened, and suddenly Mikel Jolett was left doing his best Chris Martin impression over the most boring instrumentation the band had ever played. Going down the adult contemporary route had clearly failed, so clearly, the next logical step in their progression would be synthpop, right"
When lead single “Wrong” first premiered, it appeared that The Airborne Toxic Event were a hopeless cause. The sudden change in direction wasn’t just unexpected, it was also executed horribly. The synths didn’t line up at all with Jolett’s vocals, and the whole thing just came off as disjointed and contrived. There was no warning sign that this would be their new musical path either; the last song they released prior to “Wrong” was “Hell and Back” for the Dallas Buyers Club
soundtrack in 2013, and although it was terrible, it still resembled indie rock in spite of a few elements of electropop here and there. The strings are gone and so are the moody, introspective ballads, and it feels a bit too much like trying to cash in on a hot modern trend.
Perhaps the awful one-two punch of “Wrong” and “One Time Thing” wasn’t the best way to kick-start Dope Machines
; after all, they really don’t represent the album that well. Tracks like “California” and “Time to Be a Man” showcase the best of the band’s newfound synthpop sound, each with their own highlights. Whether it’s choruses backed by artificial drum machines or lush synthesizers that help to set a nice atmosphere, The Airborne Toxic Event manage to make this album sound like a breath of fresh air rather than a sellout move. The former is incredibly danceable and contains a hook that soars to the top with its electronic beats, while the latter achieves the same using anthemic, stadium-ready percussion. “Something You Lost”, one of two songs to cross the five-minute mark, shows off a different side to The Airborne Toxic Event. The minimalistic production creates a more ethereal atmosphere, and Jolett’s vocals are a lot more emotional when they’re pushed to the forefront and backed by keyboardist Anna Bulbrook. The downbeat vibe works so well, especially with the dreamy synths supporting the foundation.
With that said, Dope Machines
still has its fair share of misfires. “Hell and Back” somehow made its way on here, as did the flat one-night-stand-baiting “One Time Thing”. At times, the instrumentation is a bit too barebones, leading certain tracks to be ineffective and boring, and the lyrics have a tendency to be incredibly weak at times. For what it is, though, this album is a much needed detour that keeps The Airborne Toxic Event sounding fresh even if it’s not the style of music they’re generally known for playing. The transition from indie rock to synthpop could have gone horribly wrong, but the execution is somewhat solid and tracks like “Something You Lost” and “California” prove the switch in sound is capable of producing great material. Had they continued doing more of the same, their repertoire would have gotten old quickly, so maybe a change is for the better. All in all, Dope Machines
is a mixed bag of great new tricks, backfired experiments and some retouches of their past. Take that as you will.