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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

There's Something in the Air

Posted Thursday, April 2, 2009, at 1:33 AM

The Airborne Toxic Event Photo by Kristi Sparrow
Take one listen to the Airborne Toxic Event's self-titled debut and they are obviously a band worth hearing.

Take a deeper look into their history and this collection of L.A. musicians is much more: They are a story worth telling.

In 2006, writer Mikel Jollett went through an unimaginably bad week. His mom got cancer. His girlfriend broke up. He was diagnosed with autoimmune disease. Several days in the hospital for his mother's surgery laid him out with pneumonia.

One bad week.

After that, though, Jollett said, "Something in me snapped." He stopped writing prose and began concentrating on music and nothing else.

About a year later, he teamed up with drummer Daren Taylor and the duo spent months working on music together. Over a few more months, they added bassist Noah Harmon, violinist and pianist Anna Bulbrook and guitarist Steven Chen.

Then there's the band's name. What kind of name is "The Airborne Toxic Event?" It's taken from a chapter in the Don DeLillo novel White Noise, in which the main character is exposed to a cloud caused by a massive chemical explosion. He is told he will die because of it.

However, far from breaking the character, the realization brings more meaning to every part of his life. He lives fully.

The "event" and the reaction to it seems to be Jollett's metaphor for his own life and the band's approach to music. When life has dealt you its worst, how can it get anything but better?

The songs on the debut album are sad in subject, but they are hopeful. Even when the lyrics don't offer hope, as in the album's big hit "Sometime Around Midnight," catharsis and energy and hope lie in the song's momentum.

Anyone who's ever longed for a lost lover can relate to the song's lyrics. Even as Jollett concludes the song saying, "You just have to see her./ You know that she'll break you in two," the listener feels better. Demons have been exorcised.

I must say this album caught me by surprise. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. Apparently, though, it caught a lot of people by surprise.

Even before it was mastered, "Sometime" was already receiving heavy rotation on L.A. rock stations. When it reached #4 on Billboard's modern rock chart, it was the first independent single to do so in 20 years.

But it isn't the only highlight on an album that's strong all the way through. "Does This Mean You're Moving On?" and "Gasoline" are also singles, although they didn't chart. "Wishing Well" and "Missy" are both also strong, but there isn't one track among the 10 worth skipping.

While the album achieved breakthrough success after its release on indie label Majordomo in August 2008, it is getting more widespread promotion and circulation now that the band's been picked up by Island Records.

The Grade: A

This band's attitude is an odd mix of recognizing that the world is a depressing place, but choosing not to be depressed anyway. It's uplifting seemingly without trying. Any modern rock fans who haven't already picked this up need to. Like me, you may have missed the initial wave of this band, but it would be a crime to miss them all together.

The Airborne Toxic Event

The Airborne Toxic Event

The players: Mikel Jollett, Daren Taylor, Noah Harmon, Anna Bulbrook, Steven Chen.

Producers: Pete Min and The Airborne Toxic Event

Want to learn more?: www.theairbornetoxicevent.com or www.islandrecords.com

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...and the beat goes on...
Jared Jernagan
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Jared Jernagan is a 2003 graduate of Wabash College and has been in journalism since 2005.
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