Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Airborne Toxic Event

The Airborne Toxic Event? Really? That's your name? The Airborne Toxic Event? Come on …

Ordinarily this is the type of screaming-indie band moniker that would send me in the other direction, but this California band caught my attention (and the attention of many others) last month when they took a freakin' scalpel to the ridiculously harsh review of their debut self-titled record by Pitchfork. Anybody who will stand up against those insufferable snobs with such class and craft has to be doing something right, I figured.

Ironically, "The Airborne Toxic Event" couldn't be a bigger misnomer when it comes to the band's music; it's anything but toxic—downright gorgeous in spots, actually. The Pitchfork reviewer was right in citing the band's obvious influences. The CD's opening notes do sound quite reminiscent of the intro strains of Arcade Fire's "Funeral," and about half of "Toxic Event" follows in that vein. But let's be clear: It's not like following in Arcade Fire's footsteps is the easiest feat in music. As the band says in its rebuttal, there are much worse bands to be compared to. The best song along these lines—and the best song on the album—is the swirling "Sometime Around Midnight," with its mournful violin intro and soaring climax.

When they're not working in Fiery territory, The Airborne Toxic Event offer up a lo-fi, uptempo, rather thrashy sound that mixes Franz Ferdinand and the Strokes with a dash of The Clash around the edges. The top song in this category is sinewy rocker "Gasoline," but there are several here worth your time ("Happiness Is Overrated," "Missy").

Two such distinct styles make for a rather disjointed experience as a whole, but each are good in their own respects, and they're not merely aping other bands' sounds, either; "Gasoline" and "Midnight" are two of the more memorable songs I've heard this year. There seems to be an intelligence and sense of endeavor at the core of this band, and that's enough for me.

Screw Pitchfork.

Grade: B+

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