Off the Cuff: The Airborne Toxic Event’s “Chains”

Posted: January 19, 2015 in A Little Less Profound
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THe Airborne Toxic Event's "Chains"By Glen

The death of the guitar has been greatly exaggerated.

As the clock struck midnight in the Eastern time zone late Sunday night, VH1’s exclusive premiere of “Chains,” the closing track from The Airborne Toxic Event’s new album Dope Machines, went live.

The song, which clocks in at 4:53, is our second taste of the much anticipated and hotly debated new sound promised by the band. And while there’s no doubt that “Chains” is a significant step away from anything heard on the previous three albums, there are still plenty of classic TATE elements here to keep longtime fans happy.

Not ready to wave goodbye to the guitar just yet? Don’t fret; it’s still here. Worried that Anna Bulbrook’s viola will be relegated to the shelf? It too makes an appearance. Concerned about the use of electronic drums? Daren Taylor’s got you covered. Drawn to Mikel Jollett’s impassioned baritone and his structure-defying, incisive storytelling? Look no further.

Along the way, we even revisit familiar Airborne thematic tropes: midnight, stumbling through the streets after the bars close, graves on a hillside, a desire to break free and break away from the past – or if not, then at least to hide from it. And above all, a desperate desire to connect with somebody who can relate.

There are other snatches of familiarity. At various times I caught myself thinking, “Hey, that sounds a bit like ‘Haile,'” or that the urgency of the strings reminds me of “Safe,” or even that the group vocals towards the end conjure “The Winning Side,” though the two songs could hardly be more different in most every other respect.

Yet those recognizable elements find fresh life here, given an entirely new context. Synths, yes, but not just that. Though present, they hardly overwhelm. There is a good deal of vocal layering going on: at times Mikel’s voice is doubled or tripled up; at other times he blends seamlessly with his bandmates. An undeniable pop sheen coats the whole thing, but in a tasteful, understated way that enhances rather than detracts from the players’ natural musicianship.

What The Airborne Toxic Event really does well here is keep the listener guessing. This is no made for radio special. Tonally and temporally, the song makes a number of unexpected shifts through its five-minute journey. Even after multiple close listens, I find myself surprised by the varied directions it chooses to take at points. There’s a sure destination, but it gets there via the scenic route, and as such shares more in common with “Innocence” than fellow album-closers “The Graveyard Near the House” and “Elizabeth.”

Ultimately, “Chains” gives the impression of a band that is comfortable in its own skin: beholden neither to the expectations created by its own history, nor to the fickle demands of pop radio programming. Which, one senses, is exactly what they set out to do.

Lyrics (unofficial)

“Chains” is available as an automatic download when you pre-order Dope Machines from iTunes starting Jan. 20.

Glen, Fan of The Airborne Toxic EventGlen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.

  1. JQJ213 says:

    I really love this song! I tried to get the lyrics here if anyone is interested… there are just a few parts where I wasn’t sure on…

    Midnight I stare out the window
    From my room
    I hear the dogs it’s going to be dawn soon
    I wonder where you are

    In my mind I’m floating alone
    In the night sky
    The treetops, the buildings beneath me
    I feel my heart beating

    So I try to find anything
    To kill the time
    To quiet my mind
    There’s got to be something
    There’s got to be someone

    That’s still awake in this city
    I can’t take another night
    I can’t stay
    I’ve got to break, break, and break
    These chains away, away

    Bars closed
    We stumble around through the echoes
    Hiding our past in some old clothes
    Like its somebody’s secret

    I see a face
    A passing light
    So good tonight
    I’m tired of putting up this fight
    There’s got to be somewhere
    There’s got to be someone

    That’s still alive in this city
    I can’t hide another night
    I can’t stay
    I’ve got to break, and break, and break
    These chains away, away
    These chains away, away

    We fade into the wind
    Riding under and chocking…
    Built for a time not 50 years old
    I can hear the whispering at the door
    With 10,000 words and nowhere to go
    And I wish you could know
    How much I still need you

    The smell of this town, the grapes on this hill
    Lit up like a crown
    The names on these signs
    I can’t even say
    I’ve got to break and break and break
    These chains away, away
    These chains away, away

    Sometimes I feel the pain
    And the heart of this ever
    All these ashes I choke on
    Does anyone remember
    Where we came from, where we came to
    A place with no center and no end
    No end

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Off the Cuff: The Airborne Toxic Event’s “Chains” […]


  3. pugsma says:


    Liked by 1 person

  4. […] Off the Cuff: The Airborne Toxic Event’s “Chains” […]


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