Posts Tagged ‘You’re So American’

Bathed in Blue: Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Creative Copper Images, Oct. 23, 2014, Vancouver, BC.

Bathed in Blue: Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Creative Copper Images, Oct. 23, 2014, Vancouver, BC.

By Glen

Any week in which we get new music from The Airborne Toxic Event is a good week indeed. So let’s get straight to recapping what was a very good week for TATE fans.

Dope Machines UnChained

The shackles have been released – Dope Machines is on the loose!

Rumors of a Feb. 24 on sale date for The Airborne Toxic Event’s new album turned out to be on point, confirmed by the band late last week. On Tuesday, Dope Machines hit iTunes and other digital retailers for the start of the pre-order period. In the process, eager TATE fans were able to get their grubby hands on an early download of the LP’s closing song, “Chains.”

“Chains,” which was premiered on Monday by VH1 (and for which we posted a snap review and lyrics), is described thusly by Mikel Jollett:

I wrote the song on one of the 400 days I spent locked inside working on the record. It’s sort of Los Angeles, about the idea of sprawl, how the great expanse of interconnectivity (physical, digital, social) can make u feel so alone when there’s no center and no edge and no end.

Fan reaction to the track has been almost universally positive, in contrast to the mixed response that the heavily synthesized “Wrong” has received. Though there have been a few dissenters, the overwhelming consensus would seem to indicate that “Chains” has succeeded in its presumed mission to stoke excitement about the album release and spur pre-orders.

In the highly unlikely event that there is anyone in the world who likes the band enough to be reading this article and yet has somehow not heard the song, here’s the audio:

You’re So American… Or Not

When Dope Machines appeared in the iTunes store late Monday evening (yes, Monday – it pays to live in the Pacific time zone), fans were thrilled to see an unexpected eleventh track on the listing: “You’re So American,” which we had earlier posited would be right at home on Dope Machines. Like many fans, I placed my pre-order immediately.

Yesterday, I poked my head back into the virtual shop, only to discover that my pre-order had disappeared. Upon further investigation, the 11-track version of the album was nowhere to be found in the store; it had been replaced by the 10-track album we had all originally expected.

After doing some digging, we were able to confirm that the original posting was a mistake. The 10-track version of the album is the only one that will be available. All pre-orders for the 11-track version have been cancelled outright; if you ordered your copy within the first day or so of it becoming available, you will need to place a new pre-order for the correct version.

The Airborne Toxic Event Dope Machines Cover ArtNude on White

The other major piece of the puzzle to come into focus this week was the album artwork. The first opportunity to see it came Friday when Shazam users were offered the chance for a sneak peek by Shazaming “Wrong.” By Monday, the cover was all over the internet.

The artwork is striking in its simplicity. After I spent entirely too much time developing my theory on what it means, Mikel ended the suspense by explaining it for us:

The cover image for our new record Dope Machines, features a photograph entitled “Nude on White” by innovative Mid century photographer Paul Himmel. I saw his work and immediately was drawn to his use of grain and high contrast to create images that were simultaneously foreign, clearly altered but unmistakably human. I felt it captured the tone of Dope Machines. Himmel was married to another highly influential mid-century photographer named Lillian Bassman. Her work echoed similar ideas: obscured but iconically human.

Paul died in 2009 after 73 years of marriage to Lillian who followed three years later. We contacted the estate and eventually were put in touch with Paul and Lillian’s children who upon learning about the band and our sincere admiration of their parent’s work, graciously allowed us to use Paul’s photograph for our cover art.

I was honored and elated and remain in their debt.

I was quite surprised to learn that the image is 60-odd years old, as I was certain that the woman in the picture was clutching a phone in her right hand. So much for my theory. Even so, when I consider this image in the context of the subject matter of Dope Machines, it strikes me as saying something about how, as we use our magnificent technology to connect with other human beings, we’re only seeing a fuzzy shadow of the persons they truly are, and they us. It is not at all what I was expecting of the album cover, given the spacey, digital feel of the “Wrong” single artwork, and yet it’s entirely fitting.

Meanwhile, the decision to release the artwork through Shazam, much like the choice last week to reveal the track list through an Instagram pic, is another appropriate tie-in to the Dope Machines theme. Unfortunately, the technology isn’t perfect. Some users, including myself initially, were not able to make the sneak peek link appear in Shazam. I thought perhaps it was only available to American users; however, I was eventually able to get it to work using the iPad app. I never did succeed with my iPhone. Regardless, it wasn’t long before the image had spread far and wide.

TIN’s Julie alerted me to a very informative article that explains the critical role that Shazam plays in the music industry today, which sheds some light on why the band chose to use that particular app for the big reveal. Times sure have changed…

Anna in the News

As reported last week, Anna Bulbrook made an appearance on Saturday Night Live last weekend, as a guest musician on Sia’s performance of “Chandelier.” Unfortunately, she was very tough to spot, hidden as she was behind a mime (speaking of changing times). But it sounded lovely.

Meanwhile, axs caught up with Ms. Bulbrook to talk about her new project, The Bulls. Anna says her Airborne bandmates are “being rad” about her new gig, and compares her new role as leading lady to performing with TATE:

Playing songs you have played forever with people you’ve played with forever is like getting on a beloved, familiar train. You get on, the train goes, maybe you have a glass of champagne, then you get off. It’s fun and comfortable and special, all at the same time. But I’ve played with lots of other people and bands over the years, so I’m used to doing things in lots of ways. The giant difference is that in The Bulls, I stand in the middle. Everything is strange and different when you are singing.

Coastline Cancelled

Disappointing news for Florida TATE fans who were looking forward to catching the band in February at the Coastline Festival. The festival has been cancelled due to financial difficulties.

Mikel Named One of Stanford’s Best

Best Paths runs down the top five Stanford alumni in the music industry. Not surprisingly, yer man Mikel cracked the list.

Toxic Gold

When The Airborne Toxic Event hit Coachella in 2013, Baeble Music caught up with Mikel and Daren for a chat, and also captured an intimate private performance of “The Storm” and “Timeless.”

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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Anna Bulbrook, Mikel Jollett and The Airborne Toxic Event explore new sonic territory on Dope Machines. Photo by Creative Copper Images, Oct. 23, 2014, Vancouver, BC.

Anna Bulbrook, Mikel Jollett and The Airborne Toxic Event explore new sonic territory on Dope Machines. Photo by Creative Copper Images, Oct. 23, 2014, Vancouver, BC.

By Glen

Last fall when The Airborne Toxic Event released “Wrong,” the first single from the upcoming album Dope Machines, it proved that Mikel Jollett wasn’t kidding around when he promised that the band would be exploring a very different sound on the next LP. His advance warnings did little to prevent some major eyebrow-raising on the part of many listeners, however, including but not limited to a number of Facebook fans who’ve taken to obnoxiously loudly registering their objection to the new direction every time the band posts anything pertaining to the release.

Not that the group is likely losing any sleep over it. If anything, it’s a case of mission accomplished. As Mikel said back in the spring, “If people aren’t mad about this next record, I’ll feel like I failed.”

The hubbub surrounding the new sound has obscured something else Mikel pointed out: namely, that this doesn’t represent a 180-degree shift. Rather, the musical terrain explored in Dope Machines has roots that can be traced in Airborne’s previous work.

I think our core fans that are really familiar with the breadth of things that we’ve done won’t be terribly surprised. They’ll be like, “Oh yeah, it’s just a little bit more on this front, and a little bit more on this front.” But, I think, to have a whole record that really goes there.

Which leads us to ponder: which TATE songs of the past can we look to for clues to the future? Some are more obvious than others, but here are five songs from The Airborne Toxic Event that may foreshadow where they are headed with Dope Machines.

5. Welcome to Your Wedding Day

Before morphing into the hardest rocking song on any of The Airborne Toxic Event’s first three studio albums, “Welcome to Your Wedding Day” opens with 30-seconds of bleeps, bloops, fuzzy guitars and synths, the likes of which were heretofore unheard on any TATE recording to date. Is it a coincidence that the band chose to open many of the shows on their fall 2014 tour with an extended version of this intro? Perhaps it was a subtle reminder that the new sounds being experimented with these days aren’t entirely new after all.

4. Innocence

Given its status as the pinnacle of Airborne’s trademark orchestral rock, “Innocence” would seem on its face to be diametrically opposed to the electronica of Dope Machines. But listen carefully to the version found on TATE’s debut album. It opens with a synthesized hum that recurs throughout the near-seven-minute masterpiece. Beginning at about the 5:14 mark, the steady buzz reappears and maintains a consistent presence through the final 90-seconds of the song, laying an electronic foundation for the exquisite instrumentation played over top of it.

3. Hell and Back

In the fall of 2013, The Airborne Toxic Event threw a self-described curve ball in the form of “Hell and Back,” a song featured on the Dallas Buyers Club soundtrack that became an unexpected hit single for the band – bringing them arguably their greatest radio success outside of “Sometime Around Midnight.”

Though it wasn’t necessarily a radical departure from that which preceded it (the stomping, sing-along chorus is reminiscent of “Changing,” to cite one connection), there were certainly elements that made us sit up and take notice – a trip-hop beat on an electric kit from Daren Taylor, an arresting synth solo from Anna Bulbrook – bringing a new flare to a familiar sound. It hinted at more to come, and its success may have emboldened the band to really go for it this time around.

2. You’re So American

In the spring of 2012, Mikel became infatuated (as did many other television viewers) with the new HBO program Girls. He took to Huffington Post to explain why he was drawn to the show, and to introduce a song that was inspired by it.

So I wrote this song after watching a 6-episode marathon of the show. It’s not an homage and it’s not a theme song or something. It’s just how I felt after spending time with those characters. Which is all that means. Maybe that makes it more subjective but I guess that’s the point.

The song, “You’re So American,” is a solo effort by Mikel featuring a screechy riff, distorted vocals and electric drums. Very un-TATE-like – up until now, that is.

1. Numb (Demo)

A couple years ago, Mikel released a demo version of the All At Once hit “Numb” through Soundcloud, stating that he actually preferred this recording to the one that ended up on the album. He reiterated his opinion last fall, saying, “I still prefer the demo of this song to the recording. Dave (Sardy) and I had a series of spirited debates about this song which ended with a compromise and a switchblade being pulled (as a joke, I think).”

The demo version is more fit for a dance club than a rock stage, with its electronic drum beat, spacey, layered vocals, muted guitars and synth flourishes. From what we know about Dope Machines, we suspect that this take on “Numb” would be right at home on it.

Glen, Fan of The Airborne Toxic Event Glen 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.

From The Airborne Toxic Event's Facebook page: Anna Bulbrook and Mikel Jollett in studio for the world premiere of

From The Airborne Toxic Event’s Facebook page: Anna Bulbrook and Mikel Jollett in studio for the world premiere of “Wrong.”

By Glen

Continuing in our tradition of quick, off the cuff reviews of new music by The Airborne Toxic Event, here are some (relatively) brief thoughts after the world premiere of “Wrong,” the first single from TATE’s fourth album, scheduled for an early 2015 release. The track debuted today on Philadelphia’s Radio 104.5.

Let’s back up a bit. Earlier this year, in an interview with Darren Rose, Mikel Jollett made some strong claims about where the band was headed next:

A lot of the things that I put on for Airborne is a certain aspect, or a certain type of music. I’ve generally written massive stuff, from bedroom pop to acoustic ballads, to huge rock songs, to straight up dance songs. With Airborne I tend to take a slice of this and put it out. On this next record, I think we’re going to be sort of widening the breadth of that, to put out a wider array of music. I guess I feel like it doesn’t matter as much to me what we sound like. I kind of want to destroy the sound of the band. That’s kind of my goal on this next record, is just completely explode any expectations we or anyone else has about what we sound like… I feel that way right now about Airborne… If people aren’t mad about this next record, I’ll feel like I failed.

Everything’s in tune… I think our core fans that are really familiar with the breadth of things that we’ve done won’t be terribly surprised. They’ll be like, “Oh yeah, it’s just a little bit more on this front, and a little bit more on this front. But, I think, to have a whole record that really goes there. I think it’s going to be a much longer record. We’re always like, “10 songs and that’s an Airborne record,” and each song is really meticulously crafted. I’m trying to meticulously craft a really large amount of music right now for this next record… I really want to bury the past…

When I sit down to write something, in a few days I can get really close to what a finished product is gonna sound like. And doing that has forced me to make a lot more choices that I used to leave up to chance… I’m producing the next record, completely; I’m not even bringing in another producer at all, and it’s forced me to make choices that I wouldn’t normally have had to make. It’s also massively meticulous, every single effect, every single thing, trying to get it right. But then what’s good about that is I really have to own it; I really have to think through what I want this thing to sound like. And even the really weird stuff… when you want something to be really weird, if something’s going to work, the details have gotta be fucking right, because if they’re not it just doesn’t. And sometimes translating that to other people or to a producer can get in the way of that… This is all kind of an experiment; it’s unfolding in real time…

I want it to sound like how I want it to sound, ’cause whatever decision I made at 3 am after ten hours of wrestling with how a kick drum should sound at this part of a song, or how much reverb the vocals should have or what the compression rate should be on the fuckin’ keyboard or whatever it is, I trust that decision. I don’t want to redo it later, and I don’t want someone else to redo it…

I’m going through the same process now, and I didn’t on the last two records, that I did on the first record, except for with a ton more tools. We didn’t have a producer, so I just produced it… And I didn’t think that much about what our sound was, because we weren’t known for a sound… And that’s kind of where I’m at now, where everything’s in play. I don’t care: if I like it, it’s in play. We might have pop songs on the next record. I wrote one yesterday – I don’t know if I’ll put that one on – but I don’t care. Whatever works. And sometimes it’s a country shuffle, and sometimes it’s a rock song, and sometimes it’s a dance song, and sometimes it’s kind of a low-fi… I’ve been using a lot of boutique 78 beats and 808’s lately, but I’ll do things to them so they sound kind of cool. There’s not going to be a ton of drumming on the next record. I mean, Daren’s gonna definitely play a bunch of stuff, but we’re gonna sort of mix it together with stuff that’s programmed… I just don’t care. I don’t care about protecting a particular aesthetic…

Fan reaction at the time ranged from trepidation to unbridled enthusiasm. Some wondered how seriously to take this, and how different the next record would truly sound.

Some light was shed in August and September with the live premieres of three new songs: “Dope Machines” and “California” at Boonstock and other festivals, and “Wrong” on the first night of the San Francisco residency. In all three cases, what was presented on stage was a step away from the traditional sound of The Airborne Toxic Event, but not so large a step as to be unrecognizably TATE, and certainly not enough to make anyone mad, as far as I’m aware.

What today’s premiere makes clear is that the live renditions we’ve witnessed thus far are really a halfway point between the traditional Airborne sound and where they’re pushing things on the new album. While it was obvious that synths will play a much bigger role than we’ve been accustomed to, many fans have been caught off guard today by how truly techno the studio version is. Whereas the live version strikes a perfect balance between synths and guitars, the latter are hard to find anywhere on the single, apart from Adrian Rodriguez’s heavily processed bass on the chorus. And while Mikel’s voice has been gloriously raw live, the recorded vocals play with distortion and layering in ways that the band has typically shied away from. The result gives off a sort of an Airborne-meets-Fitz impression (not surprising given the close relationship between the two bands), though Mikel cites LCD Soundsystem and Blood Orange as comparables.

Mikel’s prediction that fans who are really familiar with the breadth of their work would recognize the roots of the new material holds true, but one must dig deeper than anything the band has officially released to find the strongest connections. The two samples that immediately come to mind are “You’re So American,” a Girls-inspired song that Mikel penned and recorded solo in 2012, and the demo version of “Numb,” which Mikel admits to preferring over the mix that made it on to All At Once. Give these two tracks a listen, and you’ll see the genesis of what we heard today.

Bottom line: Mikel wasn’t kidding around when he promised a sharp change of direction.

So, what do we think? Personally, I shared other fans’ surprise on first listen. Given what Mikel had said, I really shouldn’t have, but having had the live version on loop for the past couple weeks, I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so synth-driven, to the exclusion of other elements.

That being said, I am ready for the ride. The more (and louder) I listen, the more it grows. I’m always a proponent of artists pushing themselves and expanding their sound. Though many of the elements that drew me to Airborne and set them above all other bands are nowhere to be found here, change can be refreshing, and I’m thrilled that the band’s catalog will grow in breadth with this next release. The group is gifted with tremendously multi-talented musicians, so why pigeon-hole themselves? Though I may not wish for four albums of electronica, as a complement to the three that have come before it, this will fit just fine, and will make for wonderfully eclectic and dynamic live shows. If what we’ve seen on the fall tour is any indication, we can expect The Airborne Toxic Event to continue to blend the old and the new in ways that satisfy both long-time fans and new listeners alike.

Here’s what Mikel and Anna had to say before and after the premiere:

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.