the airborne toxic event the airborne toxic event
  • THURSDAY, AUGUST 07, 2008

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This is one of the strongest debut albums I've ever heard.

What happens to a person when his mother is diagnosed with lung cancer, he himself is diagnosed with a genetic autoimmune disease and comes down with pneumonia while sitting at his mother's death bed going through nicotine withdrawl from quitting his two pack a day habit cold turkey and then his long-term girlfriend breaks up with him? Because if it's anything like this album, then I'm going to be wishing ill on a lot more people.

It seems it's true that pain brings beauty, and torture breeds genius. The Airborne Toxic Event takes their name from a Don DeLillo novel called White Noise, in which the main character is exposed to a chemical explosion which forces him to confront his fear of death. This album is a chemical explosion, overflowing with charm and emotion. And singer Mikel Jollet faces all of his fears in the best pop record I've heard in a long time, leaving me with only one fear: is this a one-time wonder, or the beginning of a beautiful friendship?

Any album based on the pretense of a shitty two years warrants the question: if Jollet was really possessed to write this out of the sheer agony of his life, scrapping his novel and instead writing an album, can he do it again? What we have here is an instant classic, a gem of a collection of American electric guitar pop, with Jollet's baritone destined to join the ranks of The Hold Steady and The National, bar-band iconic status and all. This is the new nationalism of American music, something we can be proud of and call our own style and flavor. Bruce Springsteen-esque epic tunes, except with more substance, more heart, less jaded by success or fortunes or being from New Jersey.

And the energy of their legendary live set translates beautifully to the album. Anyone who has seen the event knows that they can't sit still, like a sugar rush, dancing and jumping like they are their own biggest fans. The album has Jollet pumping just as much soul into his lyrics as in person; on "Missy" he is practically screaming. "Wishing Well" mixes beautiful lyrics with musicality in almost perfect harmony: Jollet's talents as a writer of words shine throughout the album, and the songs live up to his creations. "Innocence" starts with a slow, steady instrumental that builds to a rousing climatic number: a solid finish to a gutsy record. Motif's fizzle in and out and remind us of previous songs, without being too repetitive or hammering it in. Cohesion, progression, momentum. There is not one boring moment on this record.

Now the fear: what if this is it? This record is the direct result of those painful two years, the band slowly forming and gaining a reputation and radio play without a label, a publicist, or even any professionally recorded music. Now the spotlight is brighter, the pressure is greater, and the times...well, good. That's not to say that the band has to wallow in misery to write an album like this, overall the record plays like an optimistic I am getting my hopes up that Jollet can still write like this in another two years. After all, "Happiness is Overrated," right, guys? -joe puglisi

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