Every band goes through a rebirth and renewal phase, if they make it long enough. It happened for The Beatles on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it happened for Bruce Springsteen on Born in the U.S.A., and now, nine years into their tenure as an active rock outfit, it’s happening for The Airborne Toxic Event on Dope Machines*.
To provide context, The Airborne Toxic Event are perhaps best known for the song “Sometime Around Midnight,” an anthemic rock ballad describing frontman Mikel Jollett’s experience running into a former girlfriend at a bar and realizing he still loved her. “Sometime Around Midnight” was named iTunes’ #1 alternative song of 2008 and served as the basis for two multi-national tours. Despite their releasing two more relatively successful studio albums in the seven-year period since, “Sometime Around Midnight” is still The Airborne Toxic Event’s go-to claim to fame.
Watch: “Sometime Around Midnight” – The Airborne Toxic Event
The energy was never quite the same after the band’s debut: 2011’s All At Once was a bigger commercial success than the band’s debut, playing off the first record’s sound with less cohesion. The Airborne Toxic Event succeeded that with the tired, lackluster Such Hot Blood in 2013, and as a previous Atwood Magazine article noted, the “third album seemed to come and go without much ado.”
In that same January article, I noted, “It’s time for a change, and from what we can tell so far, that is what you can expect from Dope Machines.” It was time for a change – something to shake the system and wake people up – and that is exactly what The Airborne Toxic Event did last month when they released not one, but two albums: In addition to introducing a refreshingly new, yet charismatically TATE musical identity with the dark electronic, synth- and beat-driven Dope Machines, The Airborne Toxic Event also independently released Songs of God and Whiskey, an acoustic and rock n’ roll record that spans ten years of songwriting and feels suspiciously like a compilation of B-sides and album cuts.
Listen: “Cocaine and Abel” – The Airborne Toxic Event
What holds resoundingly true is this: There’s no turning back now. The release of Songs of God and Whiskey alongside Dope Machines serves as a symbolic and literal letting go of the past. In order to fully embrace their new sound, TATE had to say goodbye to the past – and what better way of doing so than getting in one last hurrah? Songs of God and Whiskey finds the band cleansing themselves of what must certainly be quite the extensive backlog – most of which will not sonically fit in with Dope Machines’ new aesthetic (though we can clearly see the crossover in “California,” which shows up on both albums!). The band regains their roots on Songs of God and Whiskey, where lively, back-to-basics orchestrations mixe with Jollett’s cleverly jocular lyricism to create an attractive package of songs like the fun and dark “Cocaine and Abel,” the anthemic ballad “Change and Change and Change and Change,” and the heart-wrenchingly honest, emotionally-charged closer “The Fall of Rome.”
And with that, enter Dope Machines.
Listen: “Hell and Back” – The Airborne Toxic Event
Never before have The Airborne Toxic Event sounded as freewheeling and creatively uninhibited as they do on Dope Machines. The album goes beyond the tried story Jollett has been relying on for too long, introducing new plots and fresh content that grab the listeners as strikingly as the band once did on their debut. From the raw self-exposure on “Wrong” to the unnervingly dark introspection on “One Time Thing” and the abstract existentialism on “The Thing About Dreams,” Dope Machines finds The Airborne Toxic Event in an inspired context of content-based, rather than story-based music. The band utilizes creative song structures and artistic arrangements atop catchy, traditional and nontraditional indie pop and rock music. “My Childish Bride” is propelled by African-inspired percussive beats, “The Thing About Dreams” is supported by the marriage of ethereal, atmospheric layering and minimalistic experimentation. Meanwhile, songs like the radio-friendly “California” and “Hell and Back” are reminders that the band is still very much in tune with their characteristic anthemic pop/rock side.
Listen: “One Time Thing” – The Airborne Toxic Event
Listen: “Dope Machines” – The Airborne Toxic Event
From album opener “Wrong” to album closer “Chains,” Dope Machines reflects the rebirth of a band that was in desperate need of some change. The beautiful thing about Dope Machines is that The Airborne Toxic Event took their time fully developing each song. What has resulted is the band’s most cohesive project since their debut, a foray into new musical worlds made only more impressive by the fact that this is Jollett’s first time behind the production board.
Here in California, I was just a name and a number, a face in a tumbler. Here in California, we’re all stuck in the same scene, all nightmares and daydreams in California.
Independently of the band’s previous work, Dope Machines is a great effort: Dark electronic indie rock is applied in both minimalistic and anthemic settings to create a panoply of new sounds with catchy hooks. What’s more, Dope Machines is a great album: It reads like a book from start to finish, featuring hooks, engaging passages and a few surprise twists and turns.
Congratulations, Mikel: You’ve finally finished your novel.
Watch: “Wrong” – The Airborne Toxic Event
DOPE MACHINES Tracklisting:
2. One Time Thing
3. Dope Machines
5. Time to be a Man
6. Hell and Back
7. My Childish Bride
8. The Thing About Dreams
9. Something You Lost
*This is not meant to compare The Airborne Toxic Event as a band comparable to The Beatles or Bruce Springsteen. It is merely meant to provide popular case studies of artists who have undergone similar musical rebirths.