At various times throughout their third studio album Such Hot Blood, The Airborne Toxic Event sound similar to other contemporary bands. At times, vocalist Mike Jollet groans like Matt Berninger of The National, shouts with unrequited passion like Win Butler of Arcade Fire, or mimics the anthemic cries of folk-pop groups like Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes or Mumford & Suns. But most of the time, their sound resembles the latter two groups, with their sweeping, elated crescendoes that could move you to go on a long road trip somewhere or to buy a new car. Airborne’s sound fits better, for the inevitable categorization that all music critics make, next to a Coldplay or a U2, who is, apparently, a major influence.
Folk music, which has become popular amongst young, American bands in recent years, has no noticeable influence on the band. Whereas a Mumford & Suns play off of the nostalgia of a richer, more prosperous U.S., Airborne subsists in the present moment. The fact that they don’t seem to be reviving any genre in particular, during an age that is filled with music revivals from dream pop to post-punk, may explain why their accesible, non-confrontational sound has brought them modest success, but not the same level of success as the aforementioned neo-folk groups.
For a band named after a line from a Don DeLillo novel, their music is, surprisingly, light and sentimental. A reoccurring theme in DeLillo’s fiction is the influence of mass culture on personal identity. Characters obsessed with finding authenticity in a heavily mediated, postmodern world often go to tremendous lengths to gain a sense of individuality. Struggle, while it may be unpleasant, is the only way to change yourself. The album, for this listener, too often eschewed visceral experience, remaining in a cozier realm of contemplation.
But Airborne’s most notable flaw is that their music stands out in no particular way. Their sound is contemporary, but is mostly a bland collage of other groups. There’s often a superiority and an ostensibly left position that emanates from a critique of a pop group as commercial, but there are not many other words that describe them better. “Karma Police,” a Radiohead track off of OK Computer, has a line that goes “He buzzes like a fridge/He’s like a de-tuned radio.” In an interview, Thom Yorke said that this line described how the alternative stations in America sounded to him; that the music buzzed like a fridge; nothing about it stood out or resonated within you. Such Hot Blood matches this description.