By Glen

“We’re kind of genre-less. I think we play lots of styles of music… We’re musicians in the purest sense in that we’re not stuck to a genre. We just like music. If we liked polka, we’d probably play polka.”
– Mikel Jollett

The Airborne Toxic Event, Songs of God and WhiskeyNo, you’re not imagining things: that is the same quote we used as the lead to our review of The Airborne Toxic Event’s Dope Machines. It’s entirely fitting, because if Dope Machines pushes TATE to the extreme end in one direction, Songs of God and Whiskey proves their versatility at the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

In case you were sleeping under a rock yesterday, The Airborne Toxic Event floored fans with the announcement of a surprise second album to drop the very same minute that Dope Machines hit virtual shelves in North America. Billed as an acoustic rock ‘n’ roll record, Songs of God and Whiskey is currently only available for purchase through the band’s website, as a digital download packaged with Dope Machines in various physical formats.

Here’s what Airborne had to say about the project:

The songs from Songs of God and Whiskey are taken from 10 years of songwriting. Some are quite new, some are quite old. All were recorded by us as a group in a small studio on a hill in Los Angeles (Mount Washington, to be exact). We’re not doing any tricky chicanery on the tracks to make them hard to copy or send or reproduce. We’re quite aware that makes them easy to be traded on file-sharing sites, but hey I guess that’s the world we live in. We trust you’ll be cool and buy it if you want it. It’s seven bucks—the same amount we would get from iTunes if we sold it there.

It would be fashionable to say we decided to forego the long process of promotion and distribution of the modern music industry as a way of doing our part to attempt to realign the music world to be a more artist friendly environment in which the blah blah blah… But it’s not really true. (Even though we very much agree with those principles).

With this, we just had a simple idea in mind: make it and put it out.

With minimal time to digest the news, let alone the songs themselves, we offer up our first impressions.

On first listen to Songs of God and Whiskey, I was immediately struck by the presence of something I didn’t realize I had been missing: the sheer fun of it all.

The past year has been in many respects a heavy one for The Airborne Toxic Event. Sure, there have been huge highs: a rain-soaked performance for the ages at Lollapalooza, the legendary three-night Fillmore residency, an electric fall tour across North America, and the introduction of exciting new material. But there have also been developments that cast a shadow over the whole enterprise, most notably the release of Noah Harmon (and the subsequent flood of “Where’s Noah?” questions that won’t seem to stop) and the trepidation of a significant portion of the fan base over the electronically-infused stylings of the new album. While the band has admirably soldiered on through the clamor, there has at times been a sense of having to prove themselves all over again.

While the getting here has not been easy, that’s part of what makes Songs of God and Whiskey such a joy. It’s a throwback to the days of five friends in a room, banging out tunes between laughs and beers.

Last night I tweeted, “Only The Airborne Toxic Event could produce an album off the side of their desk and come up with something so awesome.” That’s how it sounds to me: as if Mikel Jollett, Daren Taylor, Anna Bulbrook, Steven Chen and Adrian Rodriguez gathered together in a living room with a couple of beat-up old couches, a few guitars and a viola, and emerged 33-minutes later with a new record. It’s that fresh.

And yet, that would do a disservice to the amount of work that no doubt went into this labor of love. The lyrical depth, for starters, belies hour upon hour spent alone with pen in hand. From “Poor Isaac” to “April is the Cruelest Month” to “The Fall of Rome,” this is no light snack: there is a lot to chew on here, as one might expect from alcohol-fueled musings on the Almighty.

Tonally, Songs of God and Whiskey is akin to an album-length bombastic video, with a charming demo quality about it. Hearkening back to the days of Taylor pounding out the beat to “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” on a car ceiling, or tapping out the rhythm to “Something New” with one hand while steering a boat with the other, there are moments of sheer gratuitous frivolity: Jollett’s playful chuckle at the end of “Cocaine and Abel,” his hilarious nerd and homey voices at the start of “A Certain Type of Girl,” and tongue-in-cheek lyrics galore, all presented in a musical smorgasbord of styles that runs the gamut from rockabilly to barroom country to big band to introspective ballad.

Songs of God and Whiskey is The Airborne Toxic Event’s gift to fans. Combined with the utterly thrilling Dope Machines, Airborne has offered up more than enough to satisfy even the most insatiable among us (*raises hand*) for a very long time to come. It may also be their greatest gift to themselves: a reminder of why they all signed up for this crazy adventure in the first place.

Songs of God and Whiskey: Track by Track

Poor Isaac: When I heard this old Jollett demo soundchecked in Vancouver last month, my jaw dropped. What seemed like an out of left field choice for tuning up an acoustic guitar makes a lot more sense now. “Poor Isaac” rocks as hard as a (mostly) acoustic track can, Jollett’s voice seething with a rage befitting the character he’s voicing.

Cocaine and Abel: An infectious little ditty about the good, the bad and the morbid of a coke trip. (PSA: Don’t do drugs, kids.) Jollett’s wit is on full display here, and never before has such a destructive topic been so danceable, with a brass interlude that only adds to the happy juxtaposition.

A Certain Type of Girl: Opening with Jollett goofing around, and with a rhythm established by what sounds like a pencil rubbing against paper, “A Certain Type of Girl” ramps up into a full-on country hoedown, complete with saloon-style piano. Pure fun.

Change and Change and Change and Change: Perhaps my favorite song on the album, “Change and Change and Change and Change” is strongly reminiscent of “It Doesn’t Mean a Thing.” The lyrics find Jollett at his self-deprecating best: “So I fucked it up like I always do, I was born to be alone/I don’t even know if the words were true that I screamed into the phone.”

April is the Cruelest Month: One of two songs known to fans through old YouTube videos of a solo Jollett performance, “April” is a quiet dirge that one can easily imagine being sung in a darkened bar next to an empty whiskey bottle.

The Lines of the Cars: This White Noise inspired tune was known as “Waves and Radiation” when Jollett performed it back in 2008. Found in much brisker form here, it draws its subject matter from the first part of the book from whence the band got its name.

Strangers: “Strangers” brings a little Mexican flair to the proceedings, opening with a Spanish sounding guitar riff and soft maracas keeping time. Another energetic album highlight, notable for Jollett’s falsetto and a singalong refrain that calls back to “The Way Home.”

Why Why Why: Traversing familiar lyrical territory of loss and regret, “Why Why Why” is a soft touch, moving along at a comfortable pace and contrasting Jollett’s voice with Bulbrook’s delicate backing vocals.

California: A lovely acoustic take on the poppy, popular Dope Machines track. Stripping the instrumentation down to quiet guitars and piano allows the exquisite lyrics to take center stage.

The Fall of Rome: Debuted on the fall tour, “The Fall of Rome” has had TATE fans clamoring ever since, especially once it was revealed that it would not be on Dope Machines. Lyrically, it joins “The Graveyard Near the House” at the top of a long list of Jollett’s most poignant poetry. Bulbrook’s subtle viola is a very welcome addition to a song that has typically been played by the singer alone on his guitar.

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.

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Comments
  1. Jim says:

    If you bought on itunes how can we get the other album? They push us to Itunes, then drop the new album but we have to buy Dope Machines again to download? Come on TATE, you are better than that.

    Also not a fan of their new website.

    Like

  2. Susan S. says:

    I bow to your awesomeness, Glen. I haven’t been able to absorb it all yet, to give it the attention it demands. I am just so thankful to have Fall of Rome.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Paul Hewson says:

    Songs of God and Whiskey is superior to Dope Machines. Not sure what they were thinking? You may defend as innovation or evolving, but in 5 years that record will feel dated. I love this band and follow them on the road etc, but Ill be listening to Change and Change and Change long after Ive deleted Dope Machine from my playlist.

    And what us with their strategy of forcing you to buy the album twice to access Whiskey? Boo!

    I notice their new website filters any comments that are the least bit negative. Is their new record company a bit too controlling?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Clayton says:

    People had time to delete their iTunes preorder. I’m sure some people even went as far as to spend a whole 5 minutes debating whether or not to delete that preorder.

    “How dare they release a surprise album and dictate the release method. It infringes on my God given right to obtain music the way that I want it.” This is how I am reading some remarks. It is like they didn’t have any choice in the matter. You can’t give them free album and you can’t surprise them with one either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim says:

      Oh give me a break….

      They push you to Itunes to pre-order with the incentive of receiving early singles. As fans we do so and purchase the album. Then they announce there is another album, but you have to purchase the album we told you to buy from Itunes again. This time from our website. Oh and by the way our website isnt capatable with popular browsers.

      I posted a complaint on there site, very politely, and it was censored. Only positive comments allowed.

      You can drink the kool-aid and say how great they are for surprising us, but it reeks of corporate greed.

      Like

      • Tara Benwell says:

        I consider Airborne my favourite band, but I was so disappointed with how they handled this. This is the first time I ever pre-ordered an album, and it was only because they kept asking fans to do it on FB. I thought, why not? Then when we couldn’t get Songs of God and Whiskey without buying the Dope CD, I was like, huh? I already have the new album.

        It’s not about the money, it’s about the waste of a CD that will probably never get opened and the shipping to Canada and even the environmental waste. And it was also about the lack of a response from the band, despite all of the FB messages, tweets, blog comments, etc. from people who worship them and go to every concert!

        I eventually gave up waiting for them to respond and bought the album and it is SO amazing, and I never doubted it would be worth my $25. I just wish they had offered the option of paying $20 for the digital to those of us who already pre-ordered the album. In fact, I don’t know why they don’t charge more for their albums. We’d pay more.

        I tell everyone about this band. I don’t need a spare CD to pass to someone, if that was their marketing plan.

        Maybe he’ll write us a song one day to explain the decision. In the meantime, I’m loving both of these new albums.

        Like

  5. Paul Hewson says:

    Well I love my free U2 cd, thanks. And I love they surprised us with a new album. The surprise album is far superior in my opinion.

    I also do not mind paying for the new album. But forcing you to purchase both is not very fan friendly. Agreed.

    Change and change and change and change is a great tune by the way.

    Like

  6. Clayton says:

    I’m still undecided which I like better. DM has the best song of the bunch in California. I might even say that The Thing about Dreams would be #2. But the Fall of Rome is so worth the $7 alone. I’m having an awesome week driving the kids to their events every night. So many great songs here. By the way, $7 for an album?!?!? Damn sweet!

    Jim, I’m sorry that this DM was “pushed” on you. That you were told, specifically, to “purchase the album we told you to buy from iTunes.” Seems that your ability to make a choice was taken away from you.

    Paul, this wasn’t very fan friendly. Only one way to purchase. I do think that this was recognized by selling SoG&W for the discounted price of $7. I was fine with that.

    C.

    Like

  7. […] Review: Songs of God and Whiskey, The Airborne Toxic Event […]

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  8. Tim de Monkey says:

    I can’t stop playing this album. I’m especially in love with Poor Issac. The original live recording is definitely strong, but this album version, with the guitar flourishes and tweaked lyrics, is pure gold.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Andrea Lassett says:

    Has anyone figured out how to get God and Whiskey without having to buy DM again??? I was on a Facebook hiatus (to control my addiction) and completely missed the announcement. If someone knows, please tell me!

    Like

  10. […] thisisnowhere on Review: Songs of God and Whisk… […]

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  11. […] month, The Airborne Toxic Event treated fans to a delightful surprise in the form of Songs of God and Whiskey: an unannounced acoustic rock album that was hastily recorded over three weeks and released solely […]

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  12. […] Review: Songs of God and Whiskey – Fun fact: I wrote this review in a matter of two hours after only one careful listen to the […]

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