Well then. The Airborne Toxic Event‘s new album, ‘All At Once’, might not have been our lead album review last week (that accolade went to the mighty Tune-Yards and her 8/10-scoring second album, ‘w h o k i l l’, but it certainly generated the most online opprobrium amongst the band’s fans, quick to leap to defend their idols in comment sections the internet over.
Our own Jazz Monroe attracted a fair about of stick on Twitter for his 3/10 indictment of the LA five-piece’s second album. He wins the nascent Award For The Most Unpleasant And Graphic Imagery In A Review for this line in particular: “Singer Mikel groans and splutters like a man performing something my – ahem – mate’s last girlfriend dubbed ‘thirsty dog cunnilingus’.” Thanks a bunch for that, Jazz.
He goes on to call ‘Numb’ “indie-rock stadium-baiting so deeply uninspiring you would need to send a SWAT team down to Ineptitude just to drag it within sniping range of Decent Music.” So err, that’s a no then, Jazz. Watch your inbox – TATE are no strangers to writing sniffy open letters to writers of reviews they disagree with…
Over at the Guardian, Dave Simpson sees TATE’s stadium ambitions as a good thing, writing. “‘All At Once’ and ‘Numb’ are instant, stadium-size anthems, and when the band sound as if they’re trying to cover too many bases at once, Jollett’s enthusiasm for a killer chorus and a good, dramatic yarn sees him home.” Despite this glowing praise, he’s only given the album three stars out of five.
The band’s local rag, the LA Times, set Matt Diehl on reviewing duties. He too has picked up on the band’s desire to sound REALLY FLIPPING ENORMOUS, commenting that “this is 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.”
This is, he notes, a risky preoccupation – “Playing so hard to the cheap seats is a risk — at times the group veers dangerously close to cliché” – but concludes that “the craft of Airborne’s frontman Mikel Jollett ultimately proves undeniable, however: the twinkling synths, crowd-participation-ready hand claps and catchy syncopated verses on the Modest Mouse-influenced ‘Changing’ suck you in even before it reaches the chorus.”
The thorny S-word rears its head again in Andy Gill’s review of the album over at The Independent, who picks up on “burly rockabilly depictions of Jollett’s troubled family” – four members of whom died in a year, as Jollett told Drowned In Sound – “stadium anthems of chugging sincerity, and less appealingly, a song about the bombing of that Afghan wedding party featuring some ghastly prog-rock keyboards.” He concludes that “overall, it treads an uncertain line between bombast and sensitivity.”
The aforementioned Drowned In Sound awards ‘All At Once’ a fairly unprecedented 8/10, reviewer Dom Gourlay fighting the band’s corner with aplomb. He writes, “Having been previously accused in some quarters of being calculated and fake, the contents of ‘All At Once’ paint an all too real picture of a catalogue of traumatic events dominating Mikel Jollett’s thoughts. As a result, The Airborne Toxic Event can hold their heads high safe in the knowledge their supposedly difficult second album is a resolute triumph in the face of adversity.”
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Our old friend adversity rears its head again over at This Is Fake DIY, with reviewer Mary Chang lamenting that “unfortunately, ‘All At Once’ is missing the high points that made ‘The Airborne Toxic Event’ great.”
Rolling Stone’s Will Hermes delivers the final blow, his review laced with damning sarcasm… “‘It comes like a punch in the gut,’ sings Mikel Jollett on the title track of his band’s second album. It’s a fair description of ATE’s approach, which up-ramps utilitarian folk rock into anthems that address serious topics like hollow relationships and the road to world peace.”
Those accusations about being fake that DiS’ Dom Gourlay brought up in his review rear their ugly heads again, with Hermes pondering TATE’s authenticity. “But portentous verses thud like birds against fuselage, and by the time ‘Welcome to Your Wedding Day’ stages a rousing chant of “We don’t negotiate with terror,” it’s hard to tell whether it’s a critique of militarist grandstanding or the genuine item. You can’t have your subtlety and bury it too.”
A right old mixed bunch, then, for the easily rankled TATE. Pitchfork are yet to publish their review, which I’m looking forward to reading – they gave their debut a quite marvellously scathing 1.6/10 on release, provoking TATE to write that open letter from atop their high horse.
So then, what do you think? Does this prove that our man Monroe was misguided in his steel toe-capped shoeing of ‘All At Once’, or, to pick up on his grim simile, is this all a bit of a dog’s dinner? Over to you.