Back in 2008, when The Airborne Toxic Event released their self-titled debut album, they came up with a rather unique promotional strategy: recording and releasing every song on the album as a one-take, stripped down acoustic video. This tradition carried on through 2011’s All At Once, with what were now known as the “Bombastic” videos being released one at a time in the weeks before the album dropped – generating a tremendous amount of anticipation in the process.
While some bands would be loathe to release alternate versions of entire albums at no charge, for The Airborne Toxic Event, the Bombastics functioned both as a gift to loyal fans, and a remarkably effective marketing tool. The instant “shareability” of the YouTube videos made it exceptionally easy for fans to spread the TATE gospel and win new converts.
Lead singer Mikel Jollett explains the genesis of the acoustic series:
We were all just sitting around one day with our manager, and we had this idea to do ‘a’ acoustic video of one of the songs; we were like, “Maybe we should just shoot one acoustic video somewhere, and it’ll be cool.” And then we started thinking about the places where we could do it and we were like, “What if we did this other one here? Maybe we could do three.” And then it suddenly hit us, like “Duh, we should just do the whole record.” So we started thinking about how much work it required, and we had some time to kill because, you know, we weren’t working 24 hours a day yet, so it made sense.
(Click here for the full interview, which includes interesting insights on several of the videos from the first album.)
For the third album, Such Hot Blood, the band continued the series but scaled things back, releasing just three Bombastic videos. After being spoiled with the first two albums, fans were somewhat disappointed not to receive all ten songs this time around, but there can certainly be no dissatisfaction with the quality of the three that were released.
Last year, the band asked fans to vote for their favorite Bombastic video, with “Half of Something Else” taking top spot in the poll. Though I’ve written elsewhere about my love for that particular song, it didn’t get my vote. In fact, as I thought through my answer, it didn’t even crack my top five. What did? I’m glad you asked.
5. Does This Mean You’re Moving On?
In terms of the setup, no Bombastic is more fun than “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” (although “Something New,” with drummer Daren Taylor steering a boat with one hand while drumming with the other, comes close). With the band crammed into the back of a moving car, it’s a wonder they can even move, let alone play. And Daren keeping the beat on the roof of said vehicle is arguably his finest Bombastic moment.
4. True Love
What I love most about the Bombastics is the new light they shed on the songs. The more the arrangement departs from the album version, the more I tend to like it, and “True Love” is a great example. While Noah Harmon and his mandolin are the shining star of the album version of the song, Anna Bulbrook steals the show here with a viola part (2:02) that is unique to the acoustic video. Her notes are rough, slightly discordant, and quite unlike her playing on any other song, making this my favorite of the Such Hot Blood Bombastics.
Like I said, I’m partial to the Bombastics that reimagine the studio versions, and none does so more dramatically than “Numb.” Few TATE songs rock harder in concert, but here it is reinvented as perhaps the most delicate number of the acoustic series. Mikel’s opening vocals are delivered scarcely above a whisper; Daren keeps time by lightly tapping the drum with a couple fingers, and hard guitar riffs are replaced by Anna’s dainty string plucks. All in all, a stunning transformation.
2. The Graveyard Near the House
And here we have the exception to my general preference for the performances that depart significantly from the originals. In terms of arrangement and delivery, “Graveyard” sticks very close to what we hear on the album – perhaps closer than any other entry in the series. Perhaps the band knew that there is no improving upon perfection… or is there? The rain, the darkness, the muted coloration, the flawless blending of Anna’s voice with Mikel’s… I cannot listen to this song, whether on the album or in concert or anywhere else, without the images from this video dancing across the screen of my mind.
Okay, I admit it: “Innocence” ends up in top spot of almost every TATE list I make. Guilty as charged. But how can it not? In every format, in every setting, this song encapsulates everything that I love about the band. For those of us who discovered them a little later, it is easy to overlook the fact that the release of this video marked the first time that many of the early fans heard the “Heaven is a Map” intro, and also the first time they saw the Calder Quartet add their talents to an already exquisite masterpiece. I can only imagine how it must have felt to experience it in this form for the first time.
Of course, any list of this nature is completely subjective and prone to changing with one’s mood. I’m already regretting several songs that I left out: Mikel’s stark howls on “The Kids Are Ready to Die;” the gorgeous strings that the Calders bring to “Timeless;” the magnificent orchestration of “All At Once.” On another day, any or all of these could be on my list. But today, these are my standouts. What are yours? Comment below!
Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.