Alt Tuesday: The Airborne Toxic Event

So here comes another band from Los Angeles with a self-titled debut album and a really pretentious sounding band name. Probably taken some from high brow novel? Oh it was? I’m not surprised…

Oh, wait — this band is actually awesome. To be honest, the first time I heard The Airborne Toxic Event, I sort of wrote them off. It took me a long time to actually give their material a listen and even when I did, I wasn’t initially extremely fond of it. But present me takes a look at past me and wonders what past me was thinking. The Airborne Toxic Event is a quality rock band that displays expert musicianship and makes sure that songwriting always comes first.

The sound that The Airborne Toxic Event displays is simply well balanced. The band is made up of several classically trained musicians. The bass player, Noah, not only has the ability to play the bass, but also the cello and the double bass. The violinist, Anna, often takes on several responsibilities in live performances, including background vocals, percussion, and keyboards. Each member adds his or her own personal flare to lead singer Mikel Jollett’s thoughtful songwriting. The sound is reminiscent of a modern day adaptation of The Cure if The Cure had a violin player and used straight pianos instead of synths.

The opening track on their debut album is actually a simple layering process. Obviously built on a piano riff that front man and lead singer Jollett wrote, “Wishing Well” talks about a pretty common theme: wanting a night to go somewhere special or significant. Jollett writes touching lyrics where he is obviously being very personal, but still trying to get in touch with the listener.

Other standout tracks are “Gasoline,” “Happiness Is Overrated,” and the short-and-to-the-point “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” The title just about says it all as far as the subject matter of the lyrics goes. The music has a simple backing that serves the addictive melody of the chorus. A wonderful video of the band playing the song in the back of their van is posted here (check out more of these videos on YouTube. They did one per song on this album and they’re all fantastic.)

The lead single, “Sometime Around Midnight,” is this amazing five-minute epic, which has no chorus and simply tells a heartfelt narrative. The story is stereotypical: see your ex at a bar, get really drunk and upset, stumble through the streets with the need to see her. But Jollett puts his own spin on it and you believe every line. I would suggest this as a wonderful gateway into the rest of the album (which is why I have provided a video for you! How convenient!)

It’s pretty clear how I feel about this band. Go get yourself this album. I need to say no more.

For the week of April 10, 2012

  1. Twink: Itsy Bits & Bubbles
  2. Dr. Dog: Be the Void
  3. Guided by Voices: Let’s Go Eat The Factory
  4. Andrew Bird: Break It Yourself
  5. The Big Pink: Future This
  6. Tennis: Young & Old
  7. Various Artists: Life Is Dance!
  8. Q Morrow: All Around Dude
  9. Mati Zundel: Amazonico Gravitante
  10. Bonobo: Black Sands Remixed

Paperhouse: On Mixtapes

The mixtape is a criminally underappreciated art form. You have probably seen them used as novelty items — goodie bags at Sweet Sixteens and Bar Mitzvahs — that will never be played again. Such a waste of potential.

A mixtape can be so much more than just a playlist of songs. As a narrative medium, it is just as legitimate as the short story or the painting. By making a mixtape, you act as a curator, compiling an anthology that extends well beyond the reach of any time period or genre. You can draw on everything from Top 40 to proto-punk to chillwave to construct a unique narrative that connects its constituent parts in a manner that transcends their superficial stylistic differences.

You can weave a plot with the prodigious guitar playing of Michael Hedges and the visceral voice of Björk. Or you can construct a scene with the overly emotive Bright Eyes coupled with the soft, detached piano playing of Nils Frahm. Either way, there is intentionality to your work that is not often acknowledged in a mixtape.

But there is more to a mixtape than just intentionality. By creating this anthology of music, you are distilling the most intimate parts of yourself, just like any other art form. From your music library, you search for the songs that not only sound most appropriate, but also those that you have attributed significance to through repeated listening. By placing them in your mixtape, you again change their significance. Just as a writer conveys his or her own unique voice through words, you convey your own unique voice through the selection and arrangement of songs.

This mixtape that you create could only ever be made by you. You may not like writing or be able to draw a straight line, but you can listen. When all is said and done, you will have a piece of art that is yours and yours alone. All you have to do is listen.

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