Angels & Airwaves – The Dream Walker Review
November 29, 2014 | By: Martin Said
Forget every preconceived opinion you’ve ever had regarding the band Angels & Airwaves. In 2006, Tom DeLonge’s post-Blink 182 brain child was a different matter. When DeLonge spoke, the public sighed, and his fans questioned their lost hero’s outlandish claims with sternly lowered eyebrows as they continued to play that +44 single once more. The once seemingly carefree pop-punk joker claimed to have an “epiphany” and began aiming for the stars in a space shuttle that he didn’t quite fit in. A self-confessed egotistical maniac, he casually claimed that his new super-group was not only better than “his old band”, but also triumphed over every piece of recorded music released in the 20 years prior to its formation, and also that God had contributed to the production of their debut album. Yes, he really did say that. Despite his excuses that these outbursts were caused by an addiction to painkillers and an obvious period of depression after his million dollar selling band crumbled to pieces in his own hands, DeLonge’s fans had long since given up on him, and did nothing but watch with grimacing sighs as he continued to drag himself and his rep through the dirt.
8 years later and things have changed. Tom DeLonge is back with Blink 182 and is not only more grounded than he was during the launch of Angels & Airwaves, but is also more level headed and less eager to conquer our world whilst blowing up his own. Now, this isn’t all going to be a rant about the mental state of a 38 year old rock star, but it is relevant. To know the bizarre and rather controversial backstory of Angels & Airwaves, abbreviated as AVA, is to understand just why The Dream Walker is such a fantastic album. The 5th full length record under the AVA name can be seen as somewhat of a reboot of the ambitious “art project” that DeLonge promised in those misty early years.
Firstly, due to a couple of member changes, DeLonge and multi-instrumentalist Ilan Rubin remain as the sole recording members of the outfit. Rubin joined in late 2011 as a replacement drummer for Atom Willard but his role has evolved into so much more since then. During the creation of The Dream Walker, Rubin has acted as a backbone to DeLonge’s ecstatic and rather ADD method of song writing and it shines through in the new music. As the man himself said, “Ilan is the kind of guy that’ll sit there and read a manual until 4 in the morning on how to create his own synthesizer sound through a bunch of oscillators and I’m the kind of guy that’ll throw a bunch of paint on a canvas and go, ‘Wow, that’s fucking cool!’ so we’re polar opposites and I think that’s why we became a really good pairing.” Whilst DeLonge has acted in his usual role of singer/guitarist, the well-equipped one man band Rubin has backed him up with pretty much everything else, and it balances out perfectly. Despite now having less members in the studio than ever before the variety and sonic density that AVA’s music has sometimes lacked is now present and in double supply thanks to the addition of the former Lostprophets/Paramore contributor. Where a crunchy distorted Blink-esque riff will appear on one corner, a slick indie styled beat and bass pattern will be waiting just around the next one, and it’s so smoothly woven together that it doesn’t sound as jarring as you’d think. Ilan Rubin’s presence has been the saving grace that AVA begged for, and is also a huge highlight on this new record.
The second big change here is the overall sound and pace. Before, you could almost hear Tom DeLonge’s creative thought process as you listened to one of his Angels & Airwaves records. All of the forcefully filled in gaps could be spotted a mile off, and whilst the long intro and outros worked for most of the time, they could sometimes come off as nothing more than needless “ear candy” padding that would just be there to make the whole listening event more “epic” and cinematic through way of lengthy songs. It worked, but wasn’t necessary a lot of times, especially when an 8 minute song could’ve easily only lasted for half of that. On The Dream Walker however, when you hear an intro or instrumental part, it has a point and is there as part of the song, and not as an afterthought. Case in point: opener Teenagers & Rituals. The haunting piano chords and colossal drum beats that lead the way are upfront for only 25 seconds before melting swiftly into the songs first verse. It’s “bite-size” AVA if you will, shorter and slicker versions of the good offerings we had from their old works. The huge melodies and spacey instrumental elements are still there, as shown in bolstering rock track Mercenaries and the growing harmonies of The Disease, but nothing outstays its welcome, and the Angels & Airwaves sound is now so much better for it. The rather po-faced maturity of earlier records is traded in for pure and honest emotion, best exercised in the rising ballad Tunnels, a song written by DeLonge regarding the death of his father and the lack of religious direction that he found came with it. It’s a genuinely moving track that affects with real meaning and sincerity.
This isn’t to say that the whole record is nothing but a fresher take on the usual AVA formula, as in fact the majority of it is barely recognizable against the group’s previous efforts. Lead single The Wolfpack is a fine example of this, showcasing a thick wall of buzzing electronics never before achieved by the band and one of DeLonge’s most vehement and energetic melodies in years, while its lyrics act as a clever and analogical commentary on life in the music industry. Kiss With A Spell is the band’s most industrial track yet and it plays off well. Comprised mostly of sharp 80’s synths, it’s an eerie slow burning piece capable of making even the darkest Nine Inch Nails remix green with envy, with an intense melody looming over throughout. Album closer Anomaly is a completely new one in the sense that it’s entirely acoustic, and for a band known for its eclectic mix of fuzzy keyboards and buzzing riffs, they manage to yet again pull a fresh style out of the bag with ease and complete composure. The track is a sweet love song harkening back to the simplicity of DeLonge’s early days with Blink 182 yet with an added streak of natural maturity, and is the perfect end to such a stellar mix of moods.
After years of being shot to bits by even the most amiable critics, Angels & Airwaves has finally sprung back and silenced its haters. Whilst they never really put out bad music, each AVA record just seemed like one slippery step between trial and error. Now, with The Dream Walker, Tom DeLonge’s questionable “multimedia art project” has finally hit its musical stride, and has handed over one of the most solid, consistent and genuinely fresh records in years. Whether it’s the swirling mix up of indie and post-hardcore in Paralyzed, the Killers-esque rock club echo of Bullets in the Wind or the soaring scope of penultimate song Tremors, there’s something here for anyone and everyone, AVA fan or not.
The Dream Walker is available to pre-order now and will be released via To The Stars on Dec 9th.