- - Monday, December 17, 2012

Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal

Angels & Airwaves

To The Stars Records


With influences like Radiohead, Pink Floyd and U2, Angels & Airwaves aim to make anthemic, uplifting rock ‘n’ roll for a generation raised on grunge. What keeps the band forever grounded is Tom DeLonge’s nasal voice. Perhaps that’s why the first half of “Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal” is such a nice surprise.

On the band’s newly released double EP, Mr. DeLonge’s singing is largely absent, replaced instead by an emphasis on spacey, instrumental textures that push the band away from the arena and closer to the dance floor. This is a thinking man’s version of dance music, though, with hypnotic drum loops and quirky, squiggly synthesizer riffs that target the brain more than the feet.

This first EP is titled “The Score Evolved,” a reference to the film score that Angels & Airwaves recorded for the 2011 sci-fi movie “Love.” Using a few snippets from the score as their foundation, these new songs build themselves into ambient, atmospheric shapes. The buildups are long, the drums intermittent, the keyboards omnipresent. Whenever an electric guitar comes crashing into the foreground, it’s like a clap of thunder, used to punctuate the electronic landscape with something dirty and human-sounding.

In short, these aren’t songs that you hum. They’re songs you feel. Calling it “background music” isn’t entirely fair, since “The Score Evolved” deserves an engaged audience. Still, after recording punk-pop songs for the better part of two decades with his first band, Blink-182, Mr. DeLonge deserves some applause for creating something that relies less on melodic hooks and more on carefully constructed soundscapes.

The second EP, “Love Two Re-Imagined,” is also linked to the movie world, but it doesn’t achieve the same effect. With Mr. DeLonge’s vocals pushed to the forefront, this EP puts an electronic spin on five songs that appeared on the band’s original film score. The result is a forced combination of snot-nosed punk and bubbling electronica, and Mr. DeLonge sings every word with an overearnest, over-enunciated British accent. If this is supposed to be a re-imagining of the band’s past work, why does it sound like the middle-aged equivalent of Owl City?

Viewed as a whole, the two halves of “Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal” cancel each other out. One EP takes a forward step in an unpredictable direction; the other swings for the fences and winds up striking out. Take away the second disc, though, and “The Score Evolved” stands as perhaps the most interesting set of songs these guys have ever released.

Science rocks with Dave Mustaine

Heavy metal fans may be familiar with the “spider chord,” a guitar technique popularized by Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine during the early 1980s. Utilizing four fingers, the spider chord method allows a guitarist to play consecutive chords without moving his fretting hand. It’s fast, rare and somewhat creepy-looking, not unlike the multilegged arachnid that gives the technique its name.

When scientist Brent E. Hendrixson recently discovered a new species of tarantula scuttling across the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, he chose to name it after the spider chord pioneer. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the newest member of the Theraphosidae spider family: the Aphonopelma Davemustainei tarantula.

It’s not the first time scientists have looked to heavy metal music for inspiration. In 2006, Swedish paleontology professor Mats E. Eriksson named a fossilized marine worm — the 428-million-year-old Kalloprion Kilmisteri — after Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister. When Mr. Eriksson came across another undiscovered marine worm earlier this year, he dubbed it Kingnites Diamondi in tribute to Danish metal vocalist King Diamond.

Native to the American southwest, the Aphonopelma Davemustainei joins the approximately 900 identified species of tarantula. It will receive its official induction into the arachnid world in 2013.

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