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The Airborne Toxic Event

The Mayan in Los Angeles, CA
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Pop Music Theory #125

Sounds can be deceiving. -aka- Don't judge a band by its album cover. There is so much accessible media in the world it is easy to just skip over things that don't immediately capture our attention and give us instant satisfaction. However, it is the music you take the time to get to know that becomes part of you. And it is also easy (and fun) to hate celebrities. It's easy (and fun) to play the part of a music snob, despite your actual knowledge and experience. The problem is people are complex and ever-changing and nobody ever really knows what they want. Being prejudice is one of the most debilitating diseases a human being can fall victim to. The Challenge: try to find the good in new musical experiences. Because, after all, you may have yet to hear your favorite band. You don't want to miss out on your musical soul mate because you're being stubborn and close-minded.

I first heard The Airborne Toxic Event on a local Los Angeles indie radio station that no longer exists. It sounded less than impressive, much too mainstream, much too ordinary. And it would be months before this new band would become an important part of my life. In my defense, what they were playing was an under-produced version of the band's first single, Sometime Around Midnight. The song was missing the haunting, classically inspired intro that calls your heart to attention and completely captivates your attention. A few months later a girl (who shall remain nameless) told me to give them a closer listen. After picking up their album, with the radio at full volume, the lyrics pulsated into my skull and penetrated my defenses. As soon as the first song, Wishing Well, finished the realization hit me like a punch to the gut: This is an urgently important band, and anybody would be a complete music-moron for thinking otherwise.

As their frontman crashed against the side of my head, knocking the glasses off my face, my brain raced to find what was so special about the Airborne Toxic Event. And then it hit me like a crowdsurfer to the head: truth. Unfiltered, undeniable truth. And the freedom in that truth. And the beauty in that freedom. In March of 2006 Mikel Jollett had one hellish week. Within one week's time, the lead singer's mother was diagnosed with cancer, he was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease, and (perhaps most pertinent) he broke up with his long-term girlfriend. Jollett found solace in a guitar. At the time he was working on a novel, and at some point he realized he was writing a rock album instead of a book.

Sometimes a person is shaken to the core of their being, and they are forced to reevaluate everything, in an instant the world crumbles around them and they must either change or die. Their name was taken from the Don DeLillo novel, White Noise. The plot revolves around a man who has been exposed to chemical spill, and becomes obsessed with his own fading mortality. When somebody is confronted with death there is a certain ecstasy unique to that experience. The ecstasy can best be illustrated by an old Zen story:

One day while walking through the wilderness a man stumbled upon a vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice. As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine. Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious!

The Airborne Toxic Event is that incredibly delicious strawberry surrounded by certain doom. There hasn't been a band that has been able to have the same effect. It is like being seventeen again, in your room, with your headphones on? Their music is sanctuary. The songs are so relatable it feels as if you contributed to it yourself. Imagine you decided to kill yourself by jumping off a skyscraper. And you take the leap, and you feel the fresh, cool air rush over your whole body as you fall. You start to see the world differently, and you no longer want to die, but it's too late. You are plummeting toward the hard, unforgiving concrete below. Then right before you crash violently to the ground, pulverizing your every bone, vaprizing your every organ? Right before you shrug off your mortal coil and leave this world to confront the great unknown? You magically start flying. Your body is lifted and you soar above the world like a bird. That is The Airborne Toxic Event.

On the verge of releasing their third album, we will soon see if this fantastic flame can stand the test of time. If their recent warm up tour is any indication, they will be making great music for a long, long time.

Check out the set list from January 23 at the Mayan.

 

 

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