By Erin Coulehan, Contributor, D.C. Music Live
There are few things more passionate, dangerous or human than a person operating out of all-consuming love. The mind races in rhythm with the swelling heart as each thump, beat, and thought rushes towards the object of desire. Expectation whirls you round, while adrenaline and dopamine make for a biochemically induced sense of clarity. A dizzy dance of thoughts and actions lead to new territory – to discovery. A similar and equally powerful effect is produced when that love is lost, and transformed into the lingering whisper of a mourned memory. William Shakespeare delineates this process, beginning with the most sanguinary component: “Hot blood begets hot thoughts, and hot thoughts beget hot deeds, and hot deeds, that is love.”
The stories of star-crossed and starry-eyed lovers are modernized with the release of Such Hot Blood, the third album from The Airborne Toxic Event released on April 30. The rockers reflect upon passion, loss and struggle, and will be playing two shows at 9:30 Club on May 8 and 9.
Much like The Airborne Toxic Event’s self-titled debut in 2008 and 2011’s All At Once, the material on Such Hot Blood is as evocative as it is orchestral in terms of lyrical scope and lush production.
“It’s about making the hair on the back of your neck stand up,” says Mikel Jollett, who is the voice and words of the songs and also plays guitar and keys.
Jollett wrote ten songs for the album, which he later rewrote and restructured (about 15 times per song, he says) to ensure that each felt right. The result is a poetic collection that, like all well-crafted works of art, seem effortless thanks to a combination of each band members’ talent and finesse.
Delicate piano, heartbreaking horn sections, along with the lyrics, tell stories about the ardor and the angst of relationships set on fire. Additional vocals by Anna Bulbrook, who also plays viola, keys and tambourine, and a haunting sense of comfort to the songs.
Jollett says songwriting is about connecting people, and cites a scene from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise: Amory, the novel’s protagonist, sits down with his mentor to talk about leading “a scholarly life.” The mentor explains that Amory won’t lead a life that’s different from anyone else’s the only exception being that there will be written record of his.
“I don’t feel like my life is much different from anybody else’s,” says Jollett. “I’m just writing about mine.”
The songs seem more narrative than confessional, as scenes from his life unfold with a universal appeal:we can all relate to struggle, loss and the shadows that remain at the end of a relationship as one party longs and another one lingers.
Jollett expresses admiration for writers like Philip Roth “who can make peeing on a grave seem romantic,” romantic juxtapositions shared by songs of Such Hot Blood.
“Bride and Groom” features a mandolin build and horn that could send a heart aflutter, while telling a story rich with images of bleeding fingers, parades of the insane, and breezily dancing about a lover’s bedroom. The musical composition and lyrics make the experience of the song more visceral than vicarious.
“It’s a song about failure and loss, but there’s also a sweetness to it,” adds Jollett.
Other songs on the album are more lighthearted.
For “True Love,” bassist Noah Harmon wrote the music on the mandolin and gave it to Jollett at an airport.
“I wrote the lyrics on the plane, and ended up recording it at 30,000 feet,” he laughs.
While still – well, airborne – Jollett took his computer into the plane’s bathroom and recorded the song in-flight, amidst turbulence and presumably curious expressions from other passengers.
But that’s Rock ‘n’ Roll.
The result? A lovely little ditty delivering the champagne-drunk levity that an engrossing relationship (or a high altitude) achieves before the enchantment is over.
For all the pathos the album contains, live shows seem the perfect release. The Airborne Toxic Event is set to showcase its dynamic stage presence both nights at 9:30 Club, rushing the crowd with Such Hot Blood.
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