Review Summary: I cannot sleep I cannot dream tonight
I don’t think it gets stated enough, but Tom DeLonge is a true pioneer of his craft. I grew up on Blink-182 and revelled in the hysteria and adulation of Enema of the State
and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket
; in spite of my lack of enthusiasm for music at the time, DeLonge’s vigour and cheeky humour certainly drew me into their music, where the albums eventually spoke for themselves. Angels & Airwaves on the other hand is a band I never really got into until five or so years ago. Hell, prior to that I’ll even admit I mildly loathed the alternative-rock-pop amalgam A&A provided, during the throes of releasing new music and establishing their brand. I had an aversion to the band’s ostentatious look, their sugary optimism, millennial woes, and the mid-tempo-ed simplicity of A&A’s compositional style. Yet, circa 2016, for no reason at all, I felt a gravitational pull towards listening to the band, in hindsight executed almost subconsciously. By around 2019 I had become inadvertently comfortable with their discography, with the realisation they were actually consistently good – they never excelled, but it was hard to argue with some of the quality found within those albums. What’s more important though – after overcoming my own ignorance – is it eventually got me on to musing over Tom DeLonge as a person and how he has been an important contributor to popular music, on more than one occasion, I might add.
Without really touching on the subject; I have immense respect for Tom turning down the mid-10s Blink-182 reunion (a reunion that amounted to nothing more than average-at-best new music, and creepy forty-year-old renditions of classic Blink tunes). It’s an important indicator that exhibits DeLonge chasing art and new creative pastures over trodden, dead ground for the fruits of monetary safety. Tom’s contributions in his early days put him right into the pop-punk pantheon, and they go without saying, but looking back on it now, Angels & Airwaves were also responsible for spearheading and popularising the millennial-woe-pop-rock architype bands like Thirty Seconds to Mars would later derive for their own works. In short, you can tell Tom has a real passion for the arts and looks to push and express himself in different ways, even today. In turn, whether it’s intentional or otherwise, he paves the way for other artists to follow. Like I said earlier, to me A&A haven’t made anything earth-shaking on a personal level, but it’s apparent the band’s style was ahead of its time, looking back on it.
With that said, in spite of my back-handed compliments, it would be silly of me to overlook the fact The Dream Walker
came pretty damn close to not only achieving what I imagine to be DeLonge’s long-intended vision for the band, but A&A actually made an album that felt more refined in comparison to previous offerings. Seven years on from that album and it was fairly easy to surmise Lifeforms
was quickly becoming the defining Angels & Airwaves experience. The tracks that were drip fed up to its release cemented the album’s foundations, all it had to do was maintain the consistency and pull out a couple of blinders in order to reap the acclamations being placed before its feet.
In essence, those predictions were largely successful. Lifeforms
is the most ambitious sounding A&A album yet, filled to the brim with punctilious detail, complex soundscapes, and a trove of styles from various eras in rock’s history being married to A&A’s classic sound. “Time Bomb” and “Euphoria” feel like affable and familiar introductions: sharp, refined tracks that revere the band’s quintessential hallmarks. The former’s trickling electronic introduction, shimmering guitar effects, and DeLonge’s hook-infested vocals are certain to embolden long-time fans with its fidelity to the past; while the latter etches a shade closer to a different sound. “Euphoria” sits firmly on its signature plot of land, but it slices off a tasteful amount of seventies’ prog-rock, albeit in an appropriation kind of way. This is technically down to the incidental Rush-esque synthesisers the track opens up with, but its syncopated rhythm is such an overt nod to the venerable prog legends it’s hard to think of anything else; it’s surface level stuff, but it works so well for the track overall.
Of course, this slow set up and one-two punch down memory lane is put right into context by the time “Spellbound” comes around – the inimitable standout from Lifeforms
’ tracklisting. For a band that generally resides in the upbeat sonic spectrum, “Spellbound” is a tenebrous new-wave epic: a linchpin of brooding synth work and scintillating guitar effects that synergise with DeLonge’s subtle vocal approaches, which then get knocked out of the park with big, cathartic choruses. Lifeforms
has a diverse arsenal of styles at its disposal, and it’s clear Tom is tapping into a load of his favourite bands and artists. “No More Guns” sounds like a The Clash inspired punk track, while, musically at least, “Automatic” and “Restless Souls” sound like compositions Echo and the Bunnymen would have written back in the eighties. Post-punk in particular plays a prominent role here and is responsible for forming Lifeforms
’ character, but its use also authenticates the celestial aesthetic the band have always loved running with. The punk and hard-rock influences are ingrained here, but it’s evident that post-punk is the best representation for A&A’s extraterrestrial wonts.
For a fan of Angels & Airwaves, this album will probably blow your mind. As a casual fan like myself, even I can’t overlook the refined songwriting here. Its cohesive atmosphere is matched only by its densely packed, multi-faceted instrumentation. These tracks are loaded with melodies and little twinkling hooks and things you’ll only discover on repeated listens. This is the best Angels & Airwaves album to date, and it’ll be interesting to see where they go from here. The detrimental qualities to Lifeforms
fall on the same things I’ve always disliked about A&A, but are things many people probably enjoy about the band. This, of course, comes from the zealous optimism that has always come across cheesy to me rather than inspiring. Still, the songwriting here is too good to deny, and its shortcomings are merely down to personal preferences. If you’re looking for a well-made rock album with all the pop and punk trimmings, look no further than Lifeforms