Last week I
whined about commented on the dearth of coverage of The Airborne Toxic Event’s tour thus far. But the joke’s on me this week, as there has been so much TATE content on the web that Toxicity can scarcely contain it all. So let’s get started.
Something’s Wrong Here
The band teased big news last Friday, and by early morning the word was out: their new song “Wrong,” the first single from the new album, was to be premiered that day on Philly’s Radio 104.5. The track had barely reached the end of its first play when the interwebz lit up with TATE fans weighing in with their opinions on the eye-opening electro-pop sounds emanating from their speakers (more on that below). We published our first impressions here.
By all appearances, the single will soon be supported by a music video, Mikel Jollett having posted a photo of what appears to be a video shoot this past Monday:
Meanwhile, fans are asking when “Wrong” will be available for purchase. While we don’t have a definitive answer, Pulse music board has it listed as Oct. 21, though another source contends it will be even sooner than that. Either way, it looks like we don’t have long to wait.
“There’s Hardly a Guitar On It”
The waves created by the initial airing of “Wrong” are undeniable. Though Mikel had given us every reason to expect a radically new sound, it seems no one was fully prepared for the techno nature of the new single. And based an interview conducted by Michael Cerio for Bonfire, there’s a lot more where that came from.
After Mikel and Michael got the hilarity out of their systems, they got down to business as Mikel tipped his hand on the new album:
Mikel: I wanted to kind of destroy the sound of the band, or destroy any expectations anyone had about what our sound was, even any expectations I had about what our sound was, and sort of start from scratch. And in doing so, ended up making a record that was about kind of the isolation and weird interconnectedness of the modern world due to all these weird little social, connecting, terrible, awesome, bad-ass devices that sort of like, in some ways enhance and in some ways contradict our nature as human beings. And so we made the whole record on machines; there’s hardly a guitar on the whole thing – there’s a couple guitars, but it’s almost all on machines. And that was by design… the choice was to come with a whole different sound. I kind of expect people to be angry.
Michael: Yeah, about that: Is there a fear of that, or is it just, ‘Whatever. This is what I’m doing, and I’m putting it out there, and if they like it they like it, and if they don’t they don’t?’
Mikel: Yeah. I mean, as an artist it’s like, you just do the thing you want to do, and if you’re just trying to please an audience for its own sake, you’re not an artist. At that point you’re just a corporation, and if you’re a corporation and you want to make money, you really should be an investment banker, ’cause it’s way more efficient – it’s a much more efficient way of making money. So if you’re gonna be an artist, just be an artist.
Mikel: It’s way weirder than anything we’ve ever done. There’s lots of destroyed music that’s been put through a bunch of things, and then cut up, and then put back out as if it’s the thing that made the music. And then there’s lots of weird harmonies, and there’s a voice that comes in from somewhere you don’t expect it to, and there’s instruments that are in different environments. It’s all meant to be cohesive; I’m not trying to be self-consciously weird or anything, it’s just I was really interested in using a different musical vocabulary on this record. And again, people might be mad. They might be like, ‘What the hell? You’re not James Murphy.’
Mikel was certainly right about one thing: the album’s still months away from release, and already it’s making people mad. The prospect of a guitarless TATE record is not sitting well with some fans.
It’s not surprising. Last year when we surveyed TATE fans on a wide range of topics, the single most divisive question was whether or not respondents would be interested in hearing remixes of TATE songs. The results were split straight down the middle:
While the live rendition of “Wrong” that has been trotted out on tour sounds like classic TATE with added synths, the studio version is more like TATE remixed. It remains to be seen if fans are ready to follow the band into this new frontier. Hopefully listeners have enough faith in the group’s artistic instincts to give it a fair chance, because there’s a lot to be excited about here.
Mikel has called the album Airborne’s OK Computer. As a long-time U2 fan, another comparison comes to mind: Achtung Baby – not only because it represents a major departure from an established sound, but also in the artistic motivation behind each project.
On the surface, it seems contradictory for the band to make an entire album on machines as a means to comment on humanity’s over-reliance on machines. But that’s exactly what U2 did in the ’90’s, when they wholeheartedly embraced shallow celebrity and the worst of pop culture in order to undermine it (as on Achtung and the Zoo TV Tour), and again when they later clothed the Popmart Tour in crass commercialism to expose the inherent vapidness of consumer culture. Irony is a powerful way to make a point, and it sounds like The Airborne Toxic Event is attempting something akin to that with this new record. Since Achtung Baby is my all-time favorite non-TATE album, I cannot wait to enter into this experience with them.
Silent in Pawtucket
You know it’s a busy week in the TATE universe when a show is cancelled due to Mikel’s laryngitis, and it takes us this long to mention it. But such is the case this week. It was clear during the Philadelphia gig that the singer was ailing, and by the time the band rolled into Boston, there was no denying it: this wasn’t going away without some R&R. So after leaving it all on the stage in Beantown, the band regretfully pulled the plug on Pawtucket, promising to make it up in the near future.
Three days later, the doctor pronounced a clean bill of health, and the band returned to action with a ferocious showing in New York City.
Long-time fans will no doubt recall that this isn’t the first time Mikel has dealt with the singer’s curse. Let’s hope it doesn’t return anytime soon.
A Crown for the Tambourine Queen
Back in August, TATE fans rallied around Anna Bulbrook and voted her music’s most popular tambourine player in a poll by Radio 104.5. When the band hit Philly, the queen received her crown.
Okay, it’s getting late. Time for the lightning round: a quick recap of what people are saying about TATE’s fall tour, starting with the most recent show and working backwards.
- New York was well-covered, with a review by Diffuser, a review and some exceptional pictures by photographer Michel Dussack, and a collection of fan photos courtesy of Crowd Album.
- Boston was reviewed by The Examiner, and captured on camera by Ayaz Asif (whose work is featured above and will appear in future This Is Nowhere posts), Stephanie Rose and Matt Johnson.
- Timothy Becker of Tri State Indie put together a photo recap of Philly, while more pictures can be found over on Crowd Album.
- Peter Hutchins provides a glimpse inside the very special acoustic evening in Washington, DC.
- Our friend Susan penned a personal reflection on the San Francisco residency, and how it marked a maturation – both in the band, and in herself.
Rick Fedion filmed the entire Boston show and put it on YouTube. Here’s a little Happiness to start your weekend off right:
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.