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.

Alt Tuesday: Alkaline Trio

It actually slightly worries me that it has taken me this long to post about Alkaline Trio on this blog. They are definitely one of the most important bands I have started listening to in the last couple of years. Alkaline Trio is a Chicago-based punk band that has been around since the ’90s and has been developing their sound, experimenting with post-punk inspired albums (such as Crimson and Agony and Irony). Yet they have never strayed too far from their roots, which is something I respect in an artist. Their release From Here To Infirmary is where there is a clear bridge between kids who wanted to play punk songs and adults who are serious songwriters.

The album opens with fan favorite “Private Eye,” which is a heavy, dark song that features lead guitarist/co-lead vocalist Matt Skiba at his best. His brooding lyrics can easily scare listeners away, as he is constantly “doing fucked up shit” and “looking for corpses.” But if you look past all the darkness, you can hear some pretty catchy melodies and an overall genuine emotion behind his lyrics. For example, the next track on the album, “Mr. Chainsaw,” is about the pains and struggles of growing up.

Skiba’s song writing style contrasts nicely with bassist/co-lead vocalist Dan Andriano (who happens to be a personal hero of mine, so please ignore the boy-crush nature of the rest of this post). Andriano writes extremely heartfelt lyrics that are obviously coming from a place of pain. “Take Lots With Alcohol” is a confused rambling. He bellows “I have no desire to see through my own eyes anymore.” Andriano has this incredible ability to display a very masculine voice that allows his lyricism to be dark without sounding whiney. I find myself believing his problems are genuine rather than made up for the sake of writing a sad song to make emo girls buy their album.

Other stand out tracks are the lead single, “Stupid Kid” and “Armageddon.” Alkaline Trio writes good hooks that have hard punk music behind them. Perhaps not the most accessible sound, but they are good songwriters who write about subject matter that is important to them, such as the death of friends or the personal issues they try to hash out via alcohol and self-medication.

My favorite track on the album is the final track, “Crawl.” The song tells the story of Andriano’s guilt after a one night stand with a girl who has a boyfriend. The thoughtful lyricism and raw emotion that is present is a brave showing from Andriano. A link to a live performance of the song is below:

The reason I love that performance is the same reason that I love Alkaline Trio. The punk music matters. And all the emotions are real. And let’s face it: We could always use some more real music.

Alt Tuesday: Two Door Cinema Club

With Two Door Cinema Club’s second album in the works, it seems fitting that I throw out a review of their first album. Tourist History received a lot of critical acclaim — and for good reason. The 10-song indie dance-rock album has quite a few amazing tracks on it.

Two Door Cinema Club is doing something very refreshing for the indie scene. The lead single off of their album, “What You Know,” made a solid dent in alternative charts with its hot melody and dancey chorus.

What Two Door does for modern music is actually quite revitalizing. It is pretty apparent that they have worked heavily on their melody and their rhythms. Tracks like “Cigarettes In The Theater” display strong riffs that were carefully plotted out. “Do You Want It All?” is a melodic track in 7/4 time, which catches the listener off guard — in a good way of course.

Despite the strength of most of the tracks on here, Two Door Cinema Club’s main problems are quite basic. A lot of their songs tend to run together as they do not exactly experiment with what they do. They know what they do well and they stick to it. Unfortunately, their second problem is more significant: They lack substance in their songs lyrically.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, in Alt Tuesdays, I place a lot of emphasis on writing quality lyrics that actually mean something. Two Door tends to fail entirely at presenting those. After learning all of the lyrics to “What You Know” for my a cappella group, I realized that the song literally says nothing from beginning to end. A little disappointing, to say the least. Fortunately, this is not a problem that is apparent unless you look for it. Although I suppose I just made you look for it… whoops.

Here’s the thing about Two Door, though: They are simply a band that knows how to sound tight on an album, which is quite admirable considering that a strong sense of rhythm and melody both seem to be absent from a lot of modern music. Look out for a new record from them soon, as I would bet that their second effort is a similar sounding pop gem.

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