Song of the Day: The Airborne Toxic Event – Does This Mean You’re Moving On?

Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Today’s featured selection continues our coverage of some of the bands playing the Capitol Hill Block Party as chosen by John in the Morning. Today’s selection is Does This Mean You’re Moving On? by The Airborne Toxic Event from the 2008 album The Airborne Toxic Event on Majordomo.

The Airborne Toxic Event – Does This Mean You’re Moving On? (MP3)

A few years ago, Mikel Jollett experienced a personal tragedy that led him to redirect his creative juices from long- and short-form fiction writing to songwriting. He’s had work featured in the Los Angeles Times, McSweeney’s and on NPR, among other publications. Shortly after Jollett’s change in course, The Airborne Toxic Event came to life, taking their name from a passage in Don Delillo’s White Noise and causing quite the commotion in the LA scene. Fittingly for a band led by someone of Jollett’s background, the ATE is very up front and personal, creating a visual and emotional atmosphere for listeners to lose themselves in; the record was recorded live to analog tape with the lyrics front and center. The ATE has managed to combine the anthemic rock spirit of early U2 with modern day post punk, and they bolster it all with beautiful orchestral flourishes, largely thanks to violinist Anna Bulbrook. They’ll perform the Block Party Friday 7/25 on the King Cobra Stage @ 7:15PM. For a little something different, this video shows the band performing an acoustic version of Does This Mean You’re Moving On? from the back of a moving vehicle:

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  1. Joe
    Posted July 25, 2008 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    “A Review of the Airborne Toxic Event in the Style of Pitchfork”

    A central premise in White Noise, Don Delillo’s classic postmodern commentary on late capitalism, is that within a culture where mass production and consumption are widely prevalent, one inevitably will be surrounded by simulacra, that is, inferior copies of copies that have little or no relation to the original object they attempt to simulate. Put differently, a simulacrum is an imperfect representation of a replica, which in itself is a flawed facsimile of some original, true thing. For example, a diamond is a real thing that has value as a result of the specific properties it possess. On the other hand, a cubic zirconium is a copy of a diamond that only superficially resembles it and, upon closer inspection, does not posses the true features that make a diamond valuable. Finally, there are crappy pieces of fake glass that are made to look like cubic zirconia but only cost $11.99. These are the kind of trinkets that guys from Jersey or Long Island buy their dates to make it seem like they are really in love, but in reality they are just trying to get lucky. Most people can’t tell a diamond from a cubic zirconium, but a phony glass ring is easy to spot.
    To take this clumsy metaphor to its inexorable conclusion, if The Smiths, The Arcade Fire, and early U2 are diamonds (originals); and The Killers and The Bravery are cubic zirconia (copies); then The Airborne Toxic Event, a band from Los Angeles (a place French philosopher Jean Baudrillard called “no longer real but rather belonging to the hyperreal order of simulation”) is a bunch of Grey Goose Vodka bottles and crushed red bull cans at the end of your driveway calling itself a 10 carat stone.
    Being a simulacrum themselves, that is, copies of bands like The Killers who were trying to emulate groups like U2, it is no small irony that The Airborne Toxic Event has taken its name from a seminal event in Delillo’s book that deals so extensively with the subject of what is real, what is a copy, and what is a copy of a copy that has lost all essence of the original. On the group’s self-titled debut album, attempts to channel the heart of Bono, the passion of Win Butler, the proletarian compassion of The Boss, and the yearning of Morrissey fall flat. The songs seem like vain attempts to copy originals that can’t be duplicated.
    The band’s single, “Sometime Around Midnight,” which has already received two thumbs up from KROQ (they who incessantly play Red Hot Chili Peppers, Avenged Sevenfold, and “Date Rape” by Sublime), starts off with a promising viola line; however, once the vocals of lead singer and guitarist Mikel Jolett (a former writer for Filter Magazine and the L.A. Times) begin, the song lurches forward, never progressing. Jolett repeats the same melodic phrase throughout the song, there is no verse, no chorus, no innovative arrangement, simply a steady crescendo filled with hackneyed phrases like “she’s holding her tonic like a cross.” “Papillon,” a song with an upbeat guitar line, is a stark change in tone from “Sometime Around Midnight;” however, Jolett’s penchant for repeating simple melodic vocal lines throughout songs persists. His adolescent laments about girls, alcohol, and cigarettes are constantly repeated throughout the album, albeit using a smattering of advanced vocabulary that one would find in a 12th grade copy of Wordly Wise. “This is Nowhere” is the album’s strongest track and features a catchy verse; however, the overwrought and introspective lyrics do not fit the upbeat tone of the track. In the album’s final track, “Innocence,” Anna Bulbrook’s viola once again shines, but as with most of the band’s work, the song fails to take any interesting, creative, or original turns, simply offering a simple rise and fall. The album reaches its nadir with the track “Missy,” a song so simple in its structure and so repetitive in melodic lines that it sounds like it was written by a young teenager who just received his first Stratocaster-pack from Guitar Center.
    When all is said and done, The Airborne Toxic Event bring little or nothing new to the table, and what they do bring has been done better by artists like the Arcade Fire, Bruce Springsteen, and even The Killers. Jollet’s attempts to appear heartfelt and tortured simply end up sounding like someone trying to ape the style of an emotionally ravaged person rather than the true yowls of an agonized soul. The band need to find a sound of their own instead of producing third rate replications of the sounds of their more gifted predecessors.

  2. Carol
    Posted July 26, 2008 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    you literally have no idea what you are talking about.

  3. Carol
    Posted July 26, 2008 at 1:47 am | Permalink

    one more thing…

    this review is both mean-spirited and inaccurate. it’s as if you listened to the record (if you even have it) trying only to find fault with it. yeah, sunsets suck. they’re so orange. yeah, things other people think are good are actually bad… dude. so deep.

    so Brandon Flowers is a great songwriter and Mikel Jollett who is published in McSweeney’s, a columnist on NPR, a novelist and a guy who got a poem set to music with no chorus and no verse, but just a steady crescendo of a heartbreaking story (did it occur to you it was on purpose) on the biggest radio station in L.A., he’s a charlatan?


    you are a fucking moron.

  4. Posted July 26, 2008 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    and they kick ass live!

  5. Travis
    Posted July 26, 2008 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    The first “review” is written by Airborne’s internet stalker. He goes around the internet posting negative things about the band, pretending to be different people, dressing up his “critiques” in different voices, under different names.

    so, just to review:

    The Airborne Toxic Event was named by the LA Times to be one of the three bands to watch in 2008. (the others were Castledoor and the Deadly Syndrome). Last year Silversun Pickups and Cold War Kids got that nod.

    Airborne is played almost every morning on the very highly-respected Morning Becomes Ecclectic with Nic Harcourt on KCRW.

    um, KEXP.

    Spin, Rolling Stone, the NME, Tokion, Urb, Prefix, Popmatters have all written extremely flattering things about them.

    They currently have a song on over 30 major radio stations across the country. This despite the fact that they rejected an enormous offer from Columbia and instead took one from a tiny indie label (called Majordomo).

    They made their record themselves in a home studio. The song on the radio is a home recording.

    That’s Indie and KROQ and KCRW and KEXP and 25 other stations across the country playing a home-recording of band on a tiny west coast indie label.

    It’s really kind of fascinating how this guy follows them everywhere trying to convince people that they are no good. And all they do is get bigger. Because they are talented, amazing songwriters, and the single best live band in America.

  6. Posted July 27, 2008 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    No doubt we at KEXP think they are terrific.

    Just imagine of Joe here focused all the energy he spends on petty jealousy for things that have positive meaning in his life. Maybe someone should write a song about that.

  7. Hunter
    Posted July 29, 2008 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    Wow that review from Joe is hysterical, he (or maybe she) really must not have anything better to do.

    My good friend directed all of their acoustic videos on the bands myspace page, he didn’t know them before hand, but after they were done he had nothing but great things to say about them. Seems to me they are a band that is doing it their way and I respect that. And if you have seen the acoustic video version of “sometime around midnight” you will realize they are truly a great live band.

  8. Ike
    Posted July 29, 2008 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Based on the songs I’ve heard so far, particularly “Sometime Around Midnight,” Airborne Toxic Event is a great band, so I couldn’t disagree with “Joe” more. That song has some of the most wrenching and evocative lyrics in music today. But the odd thing is that his review is a good imitation of Pitchfork. I’d say it’s pretty well-written, even if I don’t agree with him. Plus, I sympathize with the urge to tear something down in writing. It can give you a strange rush, if you’re a born critic. I imagine it’s what cocaine feels like, but it’s safer. (But in my case, I’ll save my ire for annoying overplayed classic rock songs and bland commercial radio instead! And that whiny, screechy hippie Devendra Banhart.)

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