Ed. Note: Just 9 days from now, The Airborne Toxic Event will take to the stage of The Fillmore in San Francisco, CA, to play their self-titled debut album from front to back. They’ll do the same the following two nights with their next two albums, All At Once and Such Hot Blood. As part of our countdown to this momentous occasion, each of This Is Nowhere’s writing staff will share why one of these albums is their favorite TATE record. Last week, Glen made the case for the debut; today, Jamie delves into the sophomore album; and on Sept. 16 Julie will tackle the band’s most recent release.
When Glen asked me to write a blog post about why I thought All At Once was The Airborne Toxic Event’s best album I accepted… and promptly panicked. Remember when I said I am NOT a writer? Well, that insecurity reared its ugly head once the full realization of what I had agreed to do hit me.
I needed to do the album justice. When taking This Is Nowhere’s fan survey, I surprised myself when, much like picking my favorite song, I chose All At Once as my top album without hesitation. According to the results of that survey, I wasn’t the only one. All At Once came in second for favorite album, and won the title of favorite album lyrically. During the last tour, the record was largely represented, having more songs in rotation than the album TATE was supporting, Such Hot Blood. Still, when it comes to singing praises, it feels like the album has gotten lost in the mix. It’s the middle child, often times being overlooked for the popular big brother or the newest member of the TATE family. It receives its fair share of criticisms, too. Even Mikel has recently admitted to preferring song demos to the versions that ended up on the album.
However, none of that can dull the glow that I can still feel from the first time I heard it, and so I’ll defend this album because even though the first record made me a fan, All At Once is why you’ll find me here month after month, sometimes pouring my heart out for a band I love.
It’s not hard for me to remember what it was like to be a fan back in 2011. Fairly new to TATE, I was experiencing my first new release. I was ravenous for new material, curious and even a bit apprehensive about what to expect. Their self-titled debut had set the bar high; could they even meet it, let alone top it? Recreating that magic seemed impossible, but I’ll admit to having high hopes.
What I heard, upon first listen, was wonderful. This was the record that crossed me over into super fan territory. These were the songs that left me breathless, crying in my room. In this album are 11 songs that inspired me to accept, love and enrich my life. It was the same TATE I had initially fallen in love with, a band that took profound words and brought them to life with music, filling the spaces in between the lyrics with something so impassioned, it can bring tears to my eyes.
Refusing to fit into any kind of genre, the band chose to represent a theme, instead. The opening title track, “All At Once,” feels, for lack of a better word, epic. An anthem worthy of stadiums, it also set the stage for what was to come; a song about life, beginning to end, and the changes that are inevitable, loss and death. Standing in a room of strangers, it is my favorite to sing along to, screaming at the top of my lungs and thrusting my fists in the air.
Everything that follows builds on the ideas presented in the opener. These songs contain some of Mikel’s best lyrics; songs such as the romantic, folky “All For A Woman,” and the politically charged “The Kids Are Ready To Die,” leave you reaching for the liner notes, reading and rereading the text like poetry. Every song offers some little gem that had me going back for a second and sometimes third listen before I could move on to the next.
It all culminates in a final, gentle conclusion in “The Graveyard Near the House.” Standing in stark contrast to the chaos that precedes it, the song offers a simple message: love is all that matters, all we can hope for, all that is worth anything in the end. It is the love song to end all love songs, the one I can sing to my children and my husband alike, the lyrics perfectly reflecting feelings so deep and intense, I would have sworn they could never be translated by mere words. There are no Mikelisms here; familiar words somehow create an extraordinary song, proving the songwriter’s gift more than any “big words” ever could. Equally fitting at a wedding or a funeral, this song is a perfect celebration and portrayal of life and love.
In this album, I found myself. My fears, doubts, frustrations, hopes, dreams and desires were all laid out before me, through the eyes of a stranger. Mikel had used his words to somehow tell my story even though this wasn’t my story it all. He showed me that we all have the same struggles and triumphs, and most importantly that none of us are alone. There it was again, that great comfort: I was not alone. This album changed me without really changing me at all. I armed my fears like soldiers and, well, you know the rest. I will be forever grateful.
Jamie spends most of her days with her husband as they attempt to raise 4 future TATE fans and all around decent human beings. In her free time, when not obsessively listening to her favorite bands and going to concerts, she is also an aspiring seamstress. She writes about her handmade wardrobe on her blog Such a Strange Girl, and is a regular contributor to This Is Nowhere.