First Impressions: All At Once by The Airborne Toxic Event

The second release from The Airborne Toxic Event (the name comes from Dom DeLillo’s seminal 1985 postmodern novel White Noise) is a strong work of orchestral rock. The songs are dramatic, building in often uplifting fashion, resulting in music that stands in sharp contrast to lyrics that focus on romantic breakdown, sadness and longing for a missing optimism or hope for the future.  

The title track captures the vibe well, starting quietly with a low vocal over a simple one or two note guitar chime. By the end, the band is in full “everything but the kitchen sink” mode with swooning background vocals, a strongly sung group chorus, and driving drums and bass. “Numb” has a similar feel with intense, almost frantic vocals from singer and lyricist Mikel Jollett. “Changing” is the big song from this album – and for good reason: it’s wonderfully tuneful, churning and popping – and making you rock your head. I also identify with the bitterness of the thumping “Welcome to Your Wedding Day.”  

The one track that doesn’t really work for me is “All for a Woman.” While lyrically stronger than the average romantic ballad (the lyrics are a strength here, not surprising given Jollett’s background as a writer), the music is cookie-cutter. By contrast, “The Kids Are Ready to Die,” the other slower piece on the album, is very well done, capturing the drama of this music well.  

I suspect some folks will find this collection a tad derivative, but it works for me, executed as it is with authenticity and passion. It’s well worth checking out, particularly if you’re a fan of the combination of uplift and sadness you’ll find in The Arcade Fire or some of the best of Joshua Tree-era U2.

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