The Airborne Toxic Event – Hollywood Park (Album Review)

It has been nearly five years since Songs of God and Whiskey, but now The Airborne Toxic Event is back with the highly-anticipated and exceptionally personal Hollywood Park. Rounder Records delivers their latest on Friday, May 8th, 2020.

Los Angeles-based Indie Rock act The Airborne Toxic Event has been making magic since 2006. Issuing their eponymous debut disc in 2008, the band would go on to deliver an additional four LPs over the following seven years, including 2011’s All at Once, 2013’s Such Hot Blood, and 2015’s aforementioned Songs of God and Whiskey. A band who has been both lauded and loathed throughout their career, they have ignored naysayers and gone on to perform at all the major international music festivals, tour the globe (often in obscure venues), hit the late night TV circuit, and see their music featured in series as well as blockbuster films.

A writer since before the band’s formation, Frontman Mikel Jollett has spent nearly his entire life placing pen to paper—sometimes for work, often for personal pursuits. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Hollywood Park, the band’s sixth full-length, is a companion piece to the musician-author’s memoir of the very same name, which arrives on Tuesday, May 5th, 2020, thanks to Celadon Books, a division of Macmillan.

With the recent departure of Violinist Anna Bulbrook, the band found themselves reduced to a quartet—Jollett (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Steven Chen (guitar, keyboards), Adrian Rodriguez (bass, backing vocals), and Daren Taylor (drums)going into the recording of the album. Working alongside longtime collaborator and multiple Grammy Award-nominee Mark Needham (Fleetwood Mac, The Killers), the quartet has soldiered on to craft the contemplative, raw, and deeply personal 12-song journey, Hollywood Park.

Hollywood Park opens to the joyously upbeat titular track. To say that this is an autobiographical glance would be redundant, as this is an album based off a memoir, though this particular song is especially personal—a tribute to the memory of Jollett’s father. Operating under the concept that when we live in the hearts we leave behind, we become immortal, the musician keeps his father eternally alive in his words and melodies. This continues with “Brother, How Was The War?,” as Jollett seemingly sees through his father’s eyes in a touching piano ballad that builds into something more.

A truly smooth vocal delivery sits amid the folksy notes of “Carry Me,” a hauntingly intimate moment that provides one of the collection’s stand-outs. Next, bass leads the way into “Come On Out.” Inspired by events in 11-year-old Jollett’s life, this is a look at abuse and the world of suffering that children can experience. Thus, while the chorus may seem a bit repetitive, artistically, it is merely a feverish echo of the lyrical concept.

A meandering rocker with perfectly layered harmonies, “I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore” blends glittering keys with frustrated grit to show the highs and lows of the writer’s complicated upbringing. Apropos of the childhood theme, they then tackle “All The Children” before piano opens another intimate moment with “Everything I Love Is Broken.” Here, twinkling guitar resonates throughout the background as the thickness of Jollett’s tone confesses loneliness.

There’s a delicate beat to the search of “All These Engagements,” the battle to find love when you’re strange, lonely and often feel broken. Then, there’s a fragile beauty to “The Place We Meet A Thousand Feet Beneath The Racetrack,” an almost-instrumental that features the album’s first use of strings. Oddly, it is not until nearly the end of the track that the vocals chime in with an open heart.

This paves the way for acoustic guitar to open “The Common Touch,” the first track to inject some wit into its presentation. Clearly, the tide of life has changed for Jollett at this point in his personal journey, and, re-inspired, he sings to a peppy beat. Joyous and celebratory, this is a highlight on a deeply personal collection that is now slowly beginning to wind to a close with “The Place We Meet A Thousand Feet Beneath The Racetrack (Reprise),” as a choir of angels usher the frontman in from the rain. Still mourning his father’s passing, but finding his way in this world, Jollett and his bandmates segue immediately into the album’s grand finale, “True,” an acoustic-anchored, calming and comforting conclusion to a tale of personal struggle and triumph.

Much of Hollywood Park allows Jollett to continue to mourn the loss of his father. A tragic life event with a huge impact, it provides both the starting gate and the ending note for this autobiographical journey. It’s not an unrelatable or fantastically absurd tale, as Jollett’s themes of love, loss, and loneliness touch on universally relatable territory. It’s in these hauntingly intimate moments—such as “Carry Me,” “Everything I Love Is Broken,” and “All These Engagements”—that we see the very magic that has sustained The Airborne Toxic Event throughout their beautiful career. Brutally uninhibited with its graceful poetry, Cryptic Rock gives Hollywood Park 4.5 of 5 stars.

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