The Airborne Toxic Event
All at Once
The five-piece, Los Angeles-based indie band known as The Toxic Airborne Event has an odd but telling name. Explaining its origin, the band's founder, Mikel Jollett, told laist.com that he was struck by a section of the Don DeLillo novel White Noise, in which the aforementioned "event" is a huge cloud of poisonous gas. The story's protagonist is exposed to it and told by doctors that he may have as little as a week to live … or as long as 40 years. This is, of course, true of everyone, but the fear of death changed his life.
That idea resonated deeply with the melancholy Jollett, in part because the week he started the band in 2006, he was also diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, his mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he ended a relationship with a girlfriend.
All at Once, the band's sophomore studio effort, reflects its frontman's penchant for brooding questions and soul-searching exploration. As for the band's style, Los Angeles Times writer Matt Diehl put it well when he described Airborne's approach as "the sound of a band willing itself into stadiums and Grammy nominations, every song an anthemic melodrama hinging on the crux between life and death."
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
"All at Once" focuses on the seasons of life between birth and death, and ponders the inevitable transitions that come along the way. Jollett tells us, "We grow old all at once/And it comes like a punch/In the gut, in the back, in the face/When it seems someone's lied, and our parents have died/And we hold onto each other in their place." The song concludes by voicing the hope that God is watching: "We all had just one hope, [that] there was someone looking down."
On the war-protest-minded "The Kids Are Ready to Die," Jollett ponders how anyone can ever justify war's cost to a mother who's lost a son ("Well, what could you say to make it ever/Make sense to his mother?"). Jollett also confesses some bad behavior to a priest, wanting to correct it but not knowing how. He sings, "Father, I'm sorry/I just don't know what to do with this anger."
"Half of Something Else" deals with a couple feeling whole together and incomplete when apart. Jollett eventually expresses regret when the romance fails. "Strange Girl" recalls another failed love that still made the two involved stronger: "We traded blindness for wisdom."
On "All I Ever Wanted," a man tells a woman, "I can tell you that you're all I've ever wanted, dear/I can utter every word you've ever hoped to hear," and winces at the thought of death separating them. Similarly, "The Graveyard Near the House" finds a couple imagining growing old together, as Jollett promises his beloved, "And I'll defy everyone and love you still/I will carry you with me up every hill/And if you die before I die/I'll carve your name out of the sky/I'll fall asleep with your memory/And dream of where you lie/ … It's better to love, and I will love you until I die."
"It Doesn't Mean a Thing" may be the album's most bleakly despairing track. Here, Jollett recalls his parents' history, including their seeming denial of deep questions about God spurred by their difficult life circumstances: "They'd hold hands, looking to the eyes of God/And they'd say, 'Tell me why You'd hide from us?/Why You'd fill the world with wickedness?/Why'd You spare us from Your grace, but not the rod?/Now my dad says, 'F‑‑‑ the details, just keep your head down hard/You got to find yourself alone before you'll find the eyes of God." Then Dad adds, "You're gonna leave the way you came, without a thing/ … It doesn't mean a thing."
One other track also employs an f-word. And "All I Ever Wanted" winks at lust: "You're so quiet and small, you tell me you want to be taken/I just never think of you as the kind of girl who would say that." Deep cynicism creeps into that track when Jollett says, "You tell me that you're scared that you're turning into your mother/I feel myself turn into my father/We could lie to each other like they do and say we're so happy."
A similar mindset permeates "All for a Woman." "It was all for the look in her eye," the lyrics read, "For the promise and the lie/Of a woman." "Changes" delivers a hopeless assessment of a relationship that has long since been drained of life-giving vitality: "Days pass and turn into weeks, when we don't even speak/We just lay wide awake and pretend we're asleep."
On "Numb," Jollett longs to be exactly that ("I can't sleep at night, I can't breathe/But if I drink tonight, I'll get you off my mind/ … I just want to be numb"). That track also includes this suggestive lyric: "I feel your hot breath on my tongue."
Playing the part of a rebel, the narrator on "The Kids Are Ready to Die" intones, "You can't look me in the eye and say you don't feel like a little destruction."
Described by critic Dave Simpson of the Guardian as "somewhere between Bruce Springsteen, U2 and The Pogues," The Airborne Toxic Event's anthemic approach is as vibrant and rich as its lyrics are sober and, sometimes, jaded. Jollett and Co. deliver thought-provoking reflections about life and death and everything in between. Unfortunately—and it's too tempting not to play this off their name—toxic profanity goes airborne along with jabs at God's character and nihilistic musings about life's ultimate meaninglessness.