Why, when discussing a group’s new album, do so many reviewers have the need to compare their sound to other bands? Is it that they wish to show off their musical pedigree and expertise by name-dropping the flavors of the day?

I count no less than 20 different groups that Airborne Toxic Event’s music has been compared to. They are as follows: The Smiths, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, The Strokes, Trash Can Sinatras, Blondie, The Jam, Psychedelic Furs, New Order, Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire, Rilo Kiley, Billy Corgan, Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend, U2, Marvelous 3, Maximo Park, Morrissey, and Echo & the Bunnymen. I’m sure there have been others, but that will do for now. Well, I’ll go ahead and toss one more on the pile, courtesy of my dad, who says they remind him of The Beatles. Yes, that’s right, The Beatles. Their latter work, I’m fairly certain, as “you want to be out on the street, crawling up the walls like a cat in heat” is quite a far cry from “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” But surely it’s no more bizarre than Blondie. Seriously… Blondie??

Perhaps it’s done innocently, as in “Gee, if you like any of these bands, you might like these guys too.” But being the type of person I am, I’m more inclined to see it as “Your band sucks, nothing you do is original, it’s all been done before. Yes, I’m writing about music instead of creating it myself because I’m a total loser with the need to show how knowledgeable I am to compensate.” Or even if not done with quite that level of hostility, it comes across to me as something of a put-down, not to mention pompous.

What that crazy list above says to me is that a lot of people have been turned on by Airborne’s music, they’ve been swept away in the surging tide, and now have this strange need to explain it, justify it, by grabbing wildly at passing branches. Release it. Admit you love them, and release it.

Do they have influences? Sure. All this proves is that they’ve been living and loving music as they move around on this planet, and they don’t reside in soundproof cardboard boxes. The truly great artists, while influenced by others, take those influences, add their own voice and vision, and make something uniquely theirs. Take David Bowie, for example, and his Ziggy Stardust persona. Not a whole lot of music fans in the early 1970s were familiar with Japanese Kabuki theatre, but if they had been, what Bowie was doing in his stage performances wouldn’t have been unusual at all. And yet, in a rock context, and especially at that time, it blew people away. And speaking of Bowie, I’m surprised he’s not in that list, if only for Mikel’s Heroes-like cry at the soaring crest of “Sometime Around Midnight.”

I think it’s cool when the ear picks out these little things. But what draws me in, ultimately, is the emotional response I have upon listening. These guys do that for me, in a major way. Since the album came out on August 5, I literally haven’t stopped listening to it. It accompanies me on my way-too-early morning mile-long trek along Boston’s waterfront to work, and I find myself zooming past the other hapless commuters, tapping along with Daren’s punctuating percussive blasts on every passing surface along the way.

What may start as sadness and frustration slowly builds, both musically and lyrically, into proud anthems of defiance and survival. Stubborn hope overcoming what seems like the most impossible despair. The repeated phrases in Mikel’s prose take on a mantra-like quality. Propelled by Daren, Noah, Steven, Anna… they complement each other beautifully and seem to speak in one voice… the song elevates into a spiritual chant. Is their music a religious experience? For me, most definitely.

P.S. On the eve of their tour with the Fratellis, I’d like to wish them a fantastic time, lots of new fans… and I can’t wait to see you guys again!! If anyone out there doesn’t have their tickets yet, what on earth are you waiting for?

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