For as long as there’s been pop music, there have always been “it” bands. They pop up, seemingly out of nowhere, get showered with a bunch of critical praise, make a bunch of money, then, more often than not, fade from the public consciousness as quickly as they arrived.
As blogs have become more prevalent, this cycling of flavor-of-the-week bands has not only accelerated but also increased in breadth.
The first time I really took note of this latest phenomenon was in the latter part of 2008 when the indie scene was being inundated with bands destined to flame out before they were able to make any real impression on fans.
Some of the biggest names I recall from that period were The Airborne Toxic Event, Pains of Being Pure At Heart and, to a lesser extent, Late of the Pier. While I knew that all of these bands had put out some good songs, I was so turned off by their overhyping that I didn’t give their music much of a chance and just pushed them to the periphery of my musical landscape.
Now that I’ve had some time for my bias to dissipate, I can finally give the bands a more proper accounting. And the timing worked out well since a couple of them just released their sophomore albums within the last few months.
I’m looking forward to delving into Pains of Being …, but, for now, I’ll just focus on The Airborne Toxic Event, which released its self-titled debut in August 2008 and followed it up with All At Once this past April.
The hype machine for TATE was working overtime in 2008, as the band received praise in nearly every music magazine out there. The media assault reached its nadir in May 2009 when Carson Daly devoted an entire episode of “Last Call” to the band.
Their popularity was not entirely surprising, considering they’re from Los Angeles and were doing the kind of not-so-soft indie rock that everyone eats up. As far as their sound, the best comparison I can come up with is a harder version of Okkervil River.
I remember listening to the album at least once, but the bulk of the songs just failed to grab me. There were exceptions, such as the big singles, “Gasoline” and “Sometime Around Midnight”. But, for the most part, the disc seemed like way more of a miss than a hit.
Now, after having listened to it a few more times this weekend, I can still detect several misses, but I’ve also discovered a few more solid tracks. The album opens and closes strong with “Wishing Well” and “Innocence” and also hits high notes on “Happiness Is Overrated”, “Something New” and “Missy”.
Because of my newfound interest in the first album, I had high hopes for the latest release. Unfortunately, it was a little more miss than hit again.
The band seemed to be doing a lot of experimenting during its hiatus and it negatively affects the overall flow on this disc. All At Once opens with the title track, which sounds like it could have been a B-side to Neil Diamond’s “Coming To America”.
I did give stars to a few tracks, such as “Numb”, “It Doesn’t Mean a Thing”, “Welcome To Your Wedding Day” and “Strange Girl”, but overall it was rather lackluster.
And the disc closes on “The Graveyard Near the House”, which sounded like a total rip-off of “Hey There, Delilah” by Plain White T’s. So much so that I often found myself singing the lyrics of the latter at different points in the song without missing a beat.
I realize my sentiments weren’t exactly positive, but what can I say? Some bands put out great albums, while others just have great singles (e.g. Ladyhawke). You should at least give Airborne Toxic Event a chance — or perhaps a second chance — before you totally write them off.
You can check out a whole mess of videos — including every track on the new album — at their official website.
And look for my post on The Pains of Being Pure At Heart in the coming weeks.