Ed. Note: Just 2 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 has shared why one of these albums is their favorite TATE record. Two weeks ago, Glen made the case for the debut; last week, Jamie delved into the sophomore album; and today Julie tackles the band’s most recent release.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and woman merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one band in its time plays many parts…
Ok, that’s not exactly how it goes, but if we consider The Airborne Toxic Event’s musical output in terms of a maturing individual, then surely their latest recording is the most self-realized.
Think of it as the Three Ages of Band.* There was the restless youth of their self-titled debut (and certainly, the maudlin lover with his woeful ballad). Its attention was focused on personal concerns. Existential angst, boredom and lovelorn heartache became self-absorbed tales of misery, exquisitely expressed and executed. The album was immediate and exuberant, with a bleeding heart held out for all to see. It was a personal story, but so many people could identify with the writer’s pain.
In All At Once, the youth had matured and began to consider the larger world around him. Though love was still a solemn matter, other concerns crept in, like the fear of growing old, having to adapt to change, the complexity of romance developing into a long-term relationship, the tragedy of war and the loss of faith. Musically too, the band was maturing. Those stark primary colors of their first album gave way to a more diverse painter’s palette of subtle shades and textures, sophisticated composition and an intricate layering of rhythms and melodies. Everything became more involved.
In Such Hot Blood, Airborne’s attention to exquisite song craft and composition expands even more. Similar themes are contemplated, such as love and loss and broken relationships, but these stories are seen through a prism of growing wisdom with a wide angle view. There’s a reluctant yet inevitable letting go of naiveté. The white dress of Sometime Around Midnight that symbolized idealistic love is now gray in Safe, a metaphor for a new layer of complexity in a maturing relationship. In this stunning album, we’re privy to personal conversations, deep introspection and a widening world view that moves outward, observing the self from a distant perspective. We are guided through an insightful examination of a couple’s psychological interplay, to musings about mortality and the loss of loved ones, to contemplations on emotional dishonesty –
This city is haunted by the ghosts of failure, I am one and you are one, we’ve spent this whole time on the run, from a lie that I told that you closed your eyes and chose to believe. – Bride & Groom
There is also a sense of awakening:
Your frozen mind begins to thaw. I think my god, my god, my god. Where was it I began? – The Fifth Day
As has always been the case with Airborne, and more evident as time goes on, the music is tightly woven with the subject matter. Part of their brilliance has always been in the music’s commitment to the prose, in loyal service of an idea as presented in each song. Such Hot Blood is as breathtaking as a full-scale Broadway or West End production (The Fifth Day, This Is London), as ultimately unknowable as death and as comforting as memory (Timeless), as intimate as a couple’s private conversation (Safe, Bride & Groom, Elizabeth). Above all, it is as poignant and insightful as one’s quiet conversations with oneself (The Secret, The Storm, The Fifth Day). In the unbridled passion and deep self-inquiry of Such Hot Blood, the writer is the observer and the observed, assessing with a critical eye past failures, taking personal responsibility and accepting hard-learned lessons. Its message and medium both say, “Life sucks sometimes, but every glimpse into the psyche gives us a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. It is a window into our soul’s journey and our possible purpose.”
And I surprise myself sometimes, the way the days unfold and this road unwinds. – The Storm
In Such Hot Blood, certain ideas seem to have particular significance, whether they’re stated literally or clothed in metaphor.
Not just a narrative, but a conversation (Safe, Bride & Groom, The Fifth Day, Elizabeth). The story is no longer just about the writer’s emotions and heartbreak; it is told from a wider perspective, looking at both sides of the relationship. The woman’s perspective is expressed in Anna’s beautiful vocal counterpoint to Mikel’s narrative.
Were you happy? Were you honest? Did you ever believe that any of this was real? – Safe
Bricks and Prisons (Dublin, The Way Home). Dublin is arguably Mikel at his most unabashedly poetic, fittingly wrapped in a romantic Irish ballad. The Way Home, performed as a reverent hymn, is as solemn as a church service and as vulnerable as a lost child. There’s the yearning to tear down mental prisons “built of bricks of shame,” to break free of one’s “prison made of stone.”
Going Home – The Storm, This Is London, Dublin, The Way Home. The concept of “home” is not just a tangible idea; it is also symbolic. I see this as not just a physical place, but a spiritual place of comfort, security and inner peace. It seems to be about finding one’s personal truth, about discovering one’s concept of god.
The halos looked like rusted chains in the light, as we screamed in the dark. I just wanted to find a way home. – The Way Home
What makes Such Hot Blood so special is that it feels like a final installment in the trilogy, the completion of a cycle. Where do we go from here? As the band enters middle age, their ideas and their sound continue to blossom and unfold. There is a lyrical and musical maturity, growing seriousness, gravitas. Everything is becoming deeper, richer and multi-dimensional. Whatever the future holds, we are all embarking on an unknown journey from a very strong foundation.
We are timeless, timeless. Everything we have, we have everything. – Timeless
* Special thanks to Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man, from As You Like It.
Along with writing regularly for This Is Nowhere, Julie publishes musingsfromboston.com, a music blog with the bipolar personality of wannabe philosopher and charlatan music critic, where she is just as likely to review the audience as she is the band. Her first Airborne show was at a lingerie party hosted by WFNX at an Irish-Mexican bar in Boston’s financial district. She does her best to live by the motto “only one who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible.”