The Airborne Toxic Event
Hollywood Park


4.0
excellent

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
May 23rd, 2020 | 23 replies


Release Date: 05/22/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Emerging from the wreckage, stronger than before.

Mikel Jollett has had a pretty rough life. Prior to the release of his band’s self-titled debut, The Airborne Toxic Event, his mother died from cancer – and then in the same week, he was diagnosed with a genetic autoimmune disease and his long-time girlfriend dumped him. We marveled at the passion that emanated from soaring rockers like ‘Sometime Around Midnight’, but even at that time, we had no idea how deep the pain actually went. Coming off of a five year layover with sparse activity, Jollett is now back with The Airborne Toxic Event and their sixth LP Hollywood Park, released as a pair with his memoir of the same name which details his childhood upbringing in a cult. On top of all this, his father recently died. Some people seem to get all the worst breaks, and Jollett is one of them.

The silver lining to all of this is that Jollett has always been inspired by tragedy. The Airborne Toxic Event were at their best early in their discography when Mikel was enduring some of the aforementioned trials. As time healed things for Jollett, you could feel each subsequent release losing a bit more fire until we reached 2015’s Dope Machines – which compared to anything else the band had ever done, just felt soulless. They did partially redeem themselves with the second half of that double LP, titled Songs of God and Whiskey – an all acoustic album that isolated Mikel’s voice and managed to once again highlight his strengths as a songwriter. After fading into oblivion for five years, The Airborne Toxic Event have come roaring back with arguably their greatest offering to date.

Hollywood Park sees a return to the pain and passion upon which The Airborne Toxic Event was founded. It may sound morbid, but Jollett is never more convincing than when he’s enduring personal tragedy, and this record is rife with it. The six-and-a-half minute opener laces grandiose, Bruce Springsteen-styled Americana with the sort of melancholic, intensely nostalgic lyrics that define the heart and soul of the record: “I never claimed I knew how it would end, or the order of the horses at the bend / All I knew is I would be back again - and we’d stand here as the world fell apart, at Hollywood Park.” The song serves as something of an overture for this emotional opus, recalling the album’s namesake as well as the location that he and his father spent the most of their time together – a race track for horse betting where, when his dad was out of prison, they would go together on long day trips. Jollett recalls such moments during the record’s opening verses in fond, grainy detail: “We would laugh as the horses thundered by, and I would tip my brand new hat up to the sky / And nothing could come between you and I as the horses ran wild through the dark, at Hollywood Park.” It’s immediately clear that Jollett loved his father despite their strained relationship, and that this song is a homage to his life.

The entire album can be found within the same realm of wistful reminiscence, although the majority of it is less heart-warming than the title track. ‘Brother, How Was The War?’ appears to be told from the perspective of Jollett’s father from prison, writing to his brother who is fighting in the Vietnam War: “I saw a bit of news today, I thought maybe I would drop a line / She asks me all the time, she says ‘Is he still alive?’ / McCarthy says we're winning hearts and minds / But your brother just hopes you make it back alive / They say I make parole in sixteen weeks, I don't know, I'll try my best…Brother, how was the war?” It’s a bit drabber than the boisterous rock n’ roll of the opening track, bringing things down a few notches with Mikel’s poignant cries and classical piano brushstrokes. ‘Carry Me’ delves into his drug use as a vessel to escape the horrors of his past: “Carry me somewhere far away from the noise on this damn TV, from the needle and the spoon in front of me / Wait and see when the drugs take effect / But I don't know what I'm trying to run from.” Musically, the track takes a page from Songs of God and Whiskey with its heavy acoustic strums and Jollett’s slow-build to the sort of wails and shouts that have always defined his career. Three tracks in, Hollywood Park is shaping up to be every bit the memoir-accompanying mirror into Jollett’s soul that it was intended to be.

As we cross into the midsection of the record, the songs continue to feel like a collage of scenes from his book: from the time he ran away from home at age eleven on the rhythmic, bass-driven lead single ‘Come On Out’ to the time he and his father finally fled the famous Synanon cult in which he was raised – detailed in ‘I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore’: “Our faces frozen on the highway, no turning back, no turning back / It's just you and me, kid, against the world, now / They're after us, they're after us”. Elsewhere, he laments frivolous engagements (“There's a hole in your heart, just go fill it with love / As they grasp at a future and promise it will be joyful and fruitful, ‘We're better as two’ / But what is love?”) on the moody-ballad-turned-grungy ‘All These Engagements’, and figuratively revisits the horse track with his late father on ‘The Place We Meet A Thousand Feet Beneath The Racetrack’, as well as its reprisal version, and asks him one last question: “The final question I could ask when it's only you and I – ‘Were you ever scared like me, your heart in tatters?’ / You said, ‘Son, just let it be, like rain on flowers”. While the lyrics are not necessarily always penned in the most uniquely poetic of ways, it’s his delivery that sells their authenticity.

By the end of Hollywood Park, it’s clear that Jollett has finally reached a stage of acceptance about his upbringing, his troubled past, and his dad’s untimely demise. He sings of his father on ‘True’, “You're never really off my mind / It's true you were my best friend, we needed each other in the end” to a symphony of fluttering strings, and ultimately concedes: “I'll see you in the dust”. The music sounds spiritual and uplifting, something that we don’t witness a whole lot of on Hollywood Park. While it’s doubtful that Jollett will ever fully leave his past behind, he does seem to have turned the page to a wide-open future. He admits that his past made him who he is, and he treasures these memories – no matter how painful. That’s the point of Hollywood Park – both the memoir and the album – to allow us to see life through his eyes. Through delicate personal confessions and surging moments of intensity, Hollywood Park does exactly that with a sort of urgency that only The Airborne Toxic event could deliver. Not unlike Jollett’s life, The Airborne Toxic Event has seen its share of ups and downs. However, both Jollett and his band seem to have emerged from the wreckage stronger than before. This is Jollett and his band accessing their very best traits while achieving a sense of resolution, and it’s a gorgeous thing to behold.



s

Recent reviews by this author
Thomas Azier Love, DisorderlyZach Bryan Elisabeth
Nicole Atkins Italian IceStyx Paradise Theatre
Styx Kilroy Was HereStyx Pieces of Eight
user ratings (12)
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
May 23rd 2020


34933 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I've always had a soft spot for these guys. Glad to see them back and doing their thing.



Also: The Airborne Toxic Event - not to be confused with COVID-19.

Digging: Bob Dylan - Rough and Rowdy Ways

SandwichBubble
May 23rd 2020


11988 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

This band's going places, I can feel it.

SlothcoreSam
May 26th 2020


2206 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This album's a grower, love the combo of All These Engagements, The Place We Meet. ... ., The Common Touch.

At times it feels like the National, then Gang of Youths.

Digging: Pottery - Welcome to Bobby's Motel

SlothcoreSam
May 26th 2020


2206 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

OK, 3 listens it, and I'm bumping it to a 4.

Project
May 26th 2020


4256 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

you put Gang of Youths in the recommended section and weirdly enough I did get vague GoY vibes from the opener. Let's see how this unfolds





edit: okay yeah this is a lot more National than Gang of Youths but it's pretty solid. Common Touch was the early standout on my first listen, though for the rest I'm trying to decipher if this is overwrought or just really heartfelt.

Digging: Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 26th 2020


34933 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I think the GoY/National comparisons mostly come from the vocals, but yeah, there are some similarities for sure (although these guys aren't quite in the same echelon). I'd venture to say it's really heartfelt as opposed to overwrought when you consider Jollett's past and all he's been through.

Slinkinlip
May 26th 2020


30 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I first listened to this right after the new 1975 album. I was probably drained from that album that on first listen Hollywood Park didn't grab me. Listening to it again with a clear mind is what this really deserved. This might be my favorite album of theirs since the self title. Excellent all around.

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 26th 2020


34933 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

The Common Touch really hit me hard just now and I regret not making it more of a focal point in the review. Oh well. Could see this climbing to a 4.5. Honestly, their best complete album by a pretty good margin.

cryptside
May 27th 2020


2399 Comments


Great review, loved Sometime Around Midnight so I will definitely check this album. I haven't really followed their trajectory, obviously.

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 27th 2020


34933 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks cryptside! They'll still never top Sometime Around Midnight (that song still gives me chills), but this is the consistent album that always seemed to evade them in the past.

SlothcoreSam
May 28th 2020


2206 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This album is so good, might be bumping to a 4.5.

More people need to get on it, and make sure you stick with it, as the back half is the best!

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 28th 2020


34933 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

agreed, the back half is really powerful

SandwichBubble
May 28th 2020


11988 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Didn't think they'd reach 8 votes, proud of these underdogs.

toxic butt event [2]



What the hell just happened...

Sunnyvale
May 28th 2020


1524 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Not quite sure how I feel about this yet, on my second listen now.



The title track seems like it might become a major jam though, serious Springsteen vibes

BigHans
May 28th 2020


30931 Comments


Damn that opener Springsteens hard.

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 28th 2020


34933 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah it's such a jam. Good to see you on board.

WatchItExplode
May 29th 2020


8180 Comments


Finally gave this a go last night, seems everyone has it pegged. I'll keep it around for another go just in case something really grabs me, but I fear this is the kind of sound I don't really need more of in my life. Interested in the dude's book though.

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 29th 2020


34933 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah I read excerpts but I need to get on it as well

Sounds really interesting

Illoomorpheme
May 30th 2020


426 Comments


Even though a lot of people say they're mediocre, I've always loved this band for some reason.

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 30th 2020


34933 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

they have had their ups and downs - but at their best, they're hard to compete with. 'sometime around midnight' is one of the most emotionally moving songs i've ever hard. this is their most consistent album although it doesn't have an earth-mover of a song (opener/title track comes close tho)



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2019 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy