A record of big sounds, bigger themes and enormous ambitions.
Mark Beaumont 2011-04-28
LA’s premium sound sculptors The Airborne Toxic Event are professors of building an epic noise from a whisper to a roar, without the need for a chorus. Having had an immense home-grown US hit with 2008’s Sometime Around Midnight, and their second album All at Once introduces itself as a masterclass. The opening title-track comes on like the mother of all …Midnights, slowly constructing a noise resembling an international conflagration between U2, Bruce Springsteen and Arcade Fire around a repeated verse. It’s staggering stuff, and if you think it exposes TATE as ponies with one (albeit monumental) trick, the album that follows will come as a scintillating face-slap.
Numb is an 80s synth-pop classic about the anaesthetic effects of massive alcohol consumption. Changing is a (fantastic) Yeah Yeah Yeahs song with an elastic glam stomp catapulting it into the stratosphere. All for a Woman is stunning dancehall balladry that sounds like Dylan going ecstatic. The Kids Are Ready to Die is a stripped-back, acoustic, emotive anti-war anthem delivered with the righteous passion of Springsteen’s Johnny 99, to be filed alongside Billy Joel’s Allentown. Sure, Welcome to Your Wedding Day ventures into the sort of electro-fried raggle-taggle folk that might invite unwelcome comparisons to a dance Levellers, but in the event it has more of the futuristic reinvention of My Chemical Romance about it.
So All at Once reveals immeasurable strings to TATE’s mighty bow, and it’s all knocked out with the sort of grasping-life-by-the-throat vivacity that might be the result of singer Mikel Jolett's autoimmune disease, or might simply be the sparks created by a hot rock band giving it both barrels. As Half of Something Else rivals The Edge for cavernous guitar atmospherics and All I Ever Wanted finds Mikel roaring in the face of a cruel mortality – "I shudder when I think I might not be here forever" – it’s clear that All at Once is a record of big sounds, bigger themes and enormous – and entirely achieved – ambitions. A crushing classic.