Reviews

The Airborne Toxic Event: 22 May 2011 - Austin, TX

With their ability to tap into universal emotions on everything from breakups to wanting to change the world, the Airborne Toxic Event have established themselves as one of the 21st century's most promising bands.

The Airborne Toxic Event

The Airborne Toxic Event

City: Austin, TX
Venue: La Zona Rosa
Date: 2011-05-22

It's a Sunday night in Austin, yet La Zona Rosa is completely sold out. The Airborne Toxic Event's popularity in Austin has been surging ever since a triumphant performance before the then unknown band's surprisingly large convention center crowd at the 2009 SXSW Music Festival. The band delivered more of the same at the Austin City Limits Festival that fall and then graduated to a coveted Friday night set at Stubbs BBQ during this year's SXSW festival. As singer/guitarist Mikel Jollet would note early in the show, tonight's performance is the band's first headlining show in Austin that's not part of a larger festival.

The room is mostly full for opening act Voxhaul Broadcast, who seem like a good match. Both bands are out of Southern California and Voxhaul Broadcast share a somewhat similar vibe with a melodic, layered indie rock sound and heartfelt vocals from singer/guitarist David Dennis. The band opens with “Leaving on the 5th”, drawing in the crowd with the energetic sound of the lead track from their Timing is Everything LP. “Loose Change” scores as well, a tune that Dennis says is about “getting free”, tapping into the ever-liberating power of rock. Bassist Phillip Munsley II pumps it up with fat low end riffs while Dennis adds guitar lines drenched in reverb for a big sound. Munsley and drummer Kurt Allen make a formidable rhythm section, and the band maybe just needs to conjure some more memorable song hooks to get to the next level.

The energy of what that next level feels like is apparent from the moment the Airborne Toxic Event hits the stage with “Numb”, from their new sophomore release All At Once. It's a millennial zeitgeist anthem that finds band leader Jollet and company tapping into the universal desire to drown one's emotional sorrows in an alcohol induced buffer. The song has several great melodic hooks to indicate there will be no sophomore slump for these still rising stars. The band goes back and forth between both of their albums all night, with the new material holding up quite well to their highly successful debut LP. The new album is easily one of the year's top releases so far.

“Wishing Well” features violinist Anna Bulbrook adding some great melodies on top of the band's dynamic sound. The new “All I Ever Wanted” builds off this, with Bulbrook's viola riffs blending with the guitars in a skillfully layered fashion to build another great song. Jollett notes how the success of the band's first album and subsequently lengthy tour meant he had to sing about his ex-girlfriend every night for two-and-half years, which he says was “awesome” (dripping in sarcasm). But releasing those emotions through song is one of the great cathartic powers of rock 'n' roll, and Jollet's ability to do so has clearly tapped into a wide cultural vein.

“Half of Something Else” is another big winner from the new LP. It's got a sonic vibe that seems to mirror the band's breakthrough break-up hit “Sometime Around Midnight”, but it's appropriate since the song appears to continue the tale from remorse to acceptance. Jollet and Bulbrook's harmonies take the song even higher as the energy in the room continues to surge.

“Gasoline” pours more fuel on the musical fire with a bouncy up-beat number that gets everyone dancing, as Bulbrook and her viola shine again on a sweet jam. The show starts to feel like one of the year's best, due to the consistently high level of the songs and energy shared between the band and audience. Jollet shows he's really feeling that energy when he climbs up on the ceiling pipes by the stage during “Something New”, and sings from the tiny speaker platform. It's the first time this reporter has seen anyone pull such a stunt at the venue, as Jollet further endears himself to the crowd.

The new “Changing” is another crowd pleaser, with melodic mid-tempo riffs on a cathartic number about moving past “buckets of rain”. Jollet introduces the next number by saying that European fans had asked if it contains an anti-American sentiment, but no, it's merely speaking out on some anti-war sentiment. The combo of the “The Kids Are Ready to Die" and "Welcome to Your Wedding Day” is another of the show's many highlights, with Jollet venting some anti-war anger as the band slowly but surely builds the sound from a simmering intro into a raging rocker.

The now classic intro from “Sometime Around Midnight” brings am instant reaction of gratitude from the crowd. The deeply heartfelt tune about the pain of seeing your ex out at the club with someone else clearly strikes a deep chord in the audience. The song builds with an almost cinematic quality, as layer upon layer of sound mirrors the turbulent emotions of the lyrics. Bulbrook's viola lines and Jollet's vocals both tap the heart on one of the most memorable songs of the young century so far. It doesn't close the set though, as “Innocence” follows. It makes a great denouement with Bulbrook's viola lines on the soft intro continuing to tug at the heartstrings, before the band amps back up for the rocking main section where Jollet sings “I lost my innocence today”, closing the set on another cathartic high note.

The encore section is a series of triumphs. “Does This Mean You're Moving On” starts it off with a rousing rocker about the continuing bourbon-filled trials of trying to get over that special someone. Jollet goes into the crowd to sing the song, driving the energy still higher. “Missy” follows, an upbeat danceable number where Bulbrook playfully dives into the audience for a short bit of crowd surfing before being passed back to the stage for a soaring viola solo. The band then pulls a surprisingly pleasing card from the jamband deck by seguing into a higher energy arrangement of Bruce Springsteen's “I'm on Fire”. This then segues into a raucous Clash-style cover of “I Fought the Law”, into some of Johnny Cash's “Folsom Prison Blues”, before finally landing back into “Missy”.

Jollet then says “This is about all of you”, to introduce the soaring title track from the new All At Once LP. It's a vibrant number that taps into the modern generation's desire of wanting something more than this crazy mixed up society seems to offer. With their ability to tap into universal emotions on everything from breakups to wanting to change the world, the Airborne Toxic Event have established themselves as one of the 21st century's most promising bands.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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