Angels & Airwaves: The Dream Walker Review Part 1

angels-airwaves-the-dream-walker-3

Reviewed by John Hussey

If you’ve read my Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker review then you’ll know how much I admire Tom Delonge and his wonderful band, Angels & Airwaves. Originally I didn’t fully like AVA because of their different style, which contrasted what I enjoyed when listening to Delonge’s work within Blink 182. I preferred his punk rock styled music, or his darker, heavier and more expressive tone within Boxcar Racer and the untitled Blink 182 album.

But, come 2014, upon the release of the Poet Anderson animated film I became more intrigued with AVA. Having listened to tracks “Paralyzed”, “The Wolfpack”, and “Bullets in the Wind” I wanted to give the entire album a try as it sounded really interesting. I had listened to some of AVA‘s songs from past albums, mostly We Don’t Need to Whisper and I-Empire, but now I wanted to give the band a real chance to see if Delonge’s music outside of Blink 182 could actually be as good, if not better.

So I grabbed myself a special bundle from Delonge’s business store, To the Stars, which included the Poet Anderson film, the Poet Anderson graphic novel, and Angels & Airwaves‘s latest album, The Dream Walker (which served as a soundtrack to the film). And I’ll be honest, I fell in love with the album and had to listen to it over and over again. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before.

So without further ado I’m going to attempt to review The Dream Walker album. But just bare in mind I’m not a music expert. I just like listening to it.

Lightning cross the way, no
I can’t rest, been up for weeks
The words they come in close
They gotta a nerve that never sleeps, for me

Starting with the opening track, “Teenagers and Rituals” gets the album going on a fairly gentle note with a piano introduction, but things quickly intensify with the addition of electronic sounds that distorts the piano and brings in the intense drumming of Ilan Rubin. This is quickly added by Delonge’s vocals. “Teenagers and Rituals” feels like a journey as it lures you into the world designed within the album, which makes more sense when you redirect the songs meaning back to the universe of Poet Anderson, introduced within the animated film.

It’s sounds gentle within the first verse as Delonge displays his unique voice with his usual blend of interestingly sounding vocals to express his inner meaning, whilst accompanied by Rubin’s powerful drums in the background. We then have a short interlude of Delonge going Bop-Ba-Ba-Da-Da, which sounds really silly on a first listen but in retrospective it adds to the song somehow (in a weird Tom Delonge kind of way). We’re then hit the pre-chorus sequence which, until I looked up the lyrics, actually has ‘shit’ in the lines which kudos to Delonge for blending that word in without my knowledge all this time.

The chorus itself is a lot louder than the rest of the song as the piano goes away and the more rock sound enters. But, as you will quickly notice with this album, the music is cleverly distorted and blended together with the electronics to create a peculiar mash-up of instruments and computer. Also I can’t help but hear the line ‘cat-like master’ and not think back to Boxcar Racer song “Cat Like Thief”.

I love how after the chorus Delonge throws in a guitar sequence that is mesmerising because of its unique sound, blended again with the electronics, to create a burst of energy as the song makes you move along with the adventure. It then quiets down for the second verse, repeating the style presented within the first, before another Bop-Ba-Ba-Da-Da leads us into another pre-chorus, before exploding with the second chorus.

Then “Teenagers and Rituals” goes surprisingly quiet, reverting back to how the song started with the piano,  and then adds in a melodic voice in the background which leads you to think that the song is coming to its end. Delonge then adds in a distorted rehash of the first verse before exploding the song back up with one final chorus. Without a doubt, this is a great opening track and gives you a clear taste of what is to come from the remaining nine songs.

Sleep
And awaken to life, for a hell of a ride
Sleep
And awaken to life, with your hands at your side-
Paralyzed

Paralyzed” takes the album into a darker territory, whilst incorporating a really exciting sounding atmosphere in specific sections of the song that really brings the adventure home. The song starts with really unsettling percussions that kicks off the awesome bass rhythm that accompanies the majority of the track. “Paralysed” gets its stride with Delonge’s guitaring which creates this vibe of adventure, which is helped by its placement within the chase scene of the animated film.

The first verse then becomes rather haunting as the guitar calms down and becomes subtle and atmospheric. Delonge’s vocals merely add to this effect by being completely distorted. The lyrics can become rather dark and possibly explores the dangers of dreaming, and how it can cripple you from within whilst your body is relaxed, unable to do anything. In that respect the title “Paralyzed” works perfectly because sleep literally shuts down your body, making you almost paralysed whilst the dream-state controls your thoughts and actions.

I love how the chorus doesn’t feel like a usual chorus in the sense that it doesn’t sound much different from the rest of the song, merely symbolised as a chorus because of its reoccurring nature throughout. Delonge’s voice is still distorted but greater emphasis is given here as the struggle is made incredibly clear, most likely for Jonas Anderson (the protagonist of the multimedia project). I also really love how for a long time I was convinced there was backing vocals during the chorus but in fact it was a clever melody by Delonge’s guitaring.

The second verse continues the haunting nature of the first verse whilst continuing to deliver an atmosphere that makes you feel apart of this unique universe as the Dream World takes control. After another chorus the song takes a different turn as the guitar picks up, but doesn’t become heavy, merely delivering a steady tune to emphasis Delonge’s long final verse which brings this tragic journey to its end within the last chorus.

“Paralyzed” is a strange song and one that I find might throw people a little bit because of its bizarre structure. The distorted vocals makes it hard to understand the meaning of the song, and the music jumps around with its mood, one minute creating a melody that you want to nod your head to and the next it makes you feel cold inside. It certainly feels more immersive once you’ve watched Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker as you understand who the song is talking about.

Inertia, take cover, a canon, you ready
The image, the session, a poet is sleeping
The current, the pilot, antennas and sirens
Like college, like thieves that, can eat with the Wolfpack

This next song is one of my favourites from The Dream Walker. “The Wolfpack” is very emotional and upbeat, despite the confusion within the lyrics. This one again, like “Paralyzed”, might throw some people as it sounds, and feels, very different to previous AVA entries. “The Wolfpack” is predominantly electronic and features barely any guitar riffs whatsoever. But despite its dance feel the song has a lot going for it and demonstrates that not only can Angels & Airwaves repeatedly  experiment with their style, but that electronic sounds can complement a rock band.

The song opens with a nice electronic introduction, showcasing how different the track is and getting you ready for what’s ahead. Then we have a rather long first verse where Delonge is always enjoying himself. You can tell this through his passion and the way he speaks his words. I love how the song has clear moments dedicated to Delonge displaying his iconic high notes which really go well with this song, making for some of the more beautiful sounding moments.

Then we go into a short pre-chorus section where the music perfectly lowers its pitch and tone to emphasis the new segment before exploding for the chorus. It’s not the loudest of choruses but it certainly packs a punch with the strong, and emotionally sounding words as well as the shrilling electronic noises which almost sound like violins playing in the background.

Straight afterwards we have the rare moment of Delonge playing the guitar which perfectly transitions the first chorus into the second verse. Again like with the first verse Delonge throws all of his passion within the lyrics, beautifully spreading the word with his unique singing voice. This is definitely one of the main reasons I love the song so much because I can’t get enough of the way Delonge sings it. I’ve always admired his singing style, which is why if you asked me for my Top 10 Favourite Blink 182 Songs I’d probably come back with mostly Delonge tracks.

“The Wolfpack” then shakes things up a bit by having an extended pre-chorus segment which builds on top of the previous one, making it better than the first. Then we stride into the next chorus which gets an exciting extension for the last stretch of the song. By this point you are grateful for all the extra content because you want to keep the track going for as long as you can. Maybe its the magic of “The Wolfpack”, or the perfect relation to the Poet Anderson franchise with all its clear references, or maybe its to do with the complex and intriguing love story within the lyrics. Whatever the reason, I think its a damn good song, ranking as one of my favourite AVA songs.

I am not (dream a bit) without emotion
I have ran from the pain of my will
From the mess of a hunt and the catch, and the thrill
And I’m ill

Onto the main track of the album, “Tunnels“.  This song is breath-taking. So much energy and love has clearly gone into making this piece of art. What I like off the bat is the strange electronic pulse that carries a strange kind of rhythm along with the subtle drums. This carries through until the end of the first section of the song.

Then things start to kick off as the guitar gets thrown in, and it’s a wonderful addition to the track, adding in another gentle layer as it calmly plays a poetic tune to accompany the deep lyrics. A clear notice is how gently sung the words are by Delonge. He sings with a very low tone as it is masked by the same distortion technique within all the tracks of this album. But damn, that guitar is beautiful. The best thing about the song next to Delonge’s vocals.

On another note, “Tunnels” is a very oddly structured song. Usually a song is clearly divided by its verses and choruses, and you can clearly define the start, the bridges, pre-chorus sections, solos, and a clear ending. But with “Tunnels” the song runs for ages before having a clear build-up to a chorus and then the chorus carries the remainder of the track. It’s strange how it goes against the conventional design but it really works and develops a song that has a stand-out voice and personality.

Things get really exciting when the second section starts in which the song begins to intensify, with Delonge resorting to his usual voice, and like with “The Wolfpack”, excels at delivering the passion. There are moments of pure delight as you feel the happiness within you rise as “Tunnels” progresses. This is something that I love about Delonge’s work, especially within Angels & Airwaves, in that he can deliver so much emotional response, clearly demonstrating that his passion in life is to grab a reaction from his audience and make them feel something.

Once the chorus kicks in for the last stage of the song everything comes together as the song blasts off. Again, it’s certainly not a heavy track like previous AVA songs but it certainly delivers a beautiful collaboration of all the elements. What makes this section even more personal is its origins. Delonge and Rubin didn’t have a chorus for “Tunnels” for a long time during the development stages until Delonge had an experience. This revolved around a feeling he got one night whilst sleeping, almost like a presence watching over him, and once he woke up he was given the news that his father had died.

This emotional, and inspiring, chorus is about that experience and that his father came to him from beyond the grave. It makes a lot of sense considering the lyrics involve around death and a connection between these two entities and worlds. The lyrics almost reflect that he doesn’t want him to go, as well as the idea that Delonge is questioning religion and faith because of loss. Needless to say, every time I listen to “Tunnels” I’m blown away.

Ohhh- I know I came in here myself
To here and ever after
Ohhh- you sent me a kiss, with a spell
I fear the ever after

The Dream Walker becomes even more experimental with this tragic piece. “Kiss With A Spell” is full-on electronic, from the music, even the vocals which shrouds Delonge’s voice underneath a powerful trance. This was certainly a track that I wasn’t sure what to make of, and for a long time I didn’t fully like its direction. However, time mellowed me out and I grew to appreciate the atmosphere that this song conveys.

Recently my partner admitted that she found “Kiss With A Spell” saddening, and upon initial thought and re-listening I couldn’t help but to agree with her. Beneath the haunting, and overwhelming electricity that the song displays there’s a deep and tragic love story but I can never quite tell who its aimed at. Is it about Jonas and Sam from the Poet Anderson franchise? Or something even deeper?

Still, this track opens up with a unique drumbeat that’s quickly followed by what can only be described as a computerised dong. The music kicks in and creates an almost science-fiction vibe as the melody appears rather futuristic, whilst conveying a personal message. The song’s sadness erupts further when Delonge’s vocals kick in. He sounds so depressed, stuck within deep thoughts of regret, perhaps guilt, or maybe just questioning the love in front of him.

The chorus later creates even more atmospheric impact as the electronic sounds grow as Delonge shouts through the distortion as he confesses both his faults and fears, but almost without regret as the love in front of him warps his mind. “Kiss With A Spell” shows its torturous struggle best in the pre-chorus segments as Delonge becomes his most emotional within the track with lyrics ‘Don’t say it’ over and over.

There is a small section dedicated to guitaring but is rather gentle, adding to the sadness of the song as it blends with the distortion of futuristic sounds within the conflict of love. It may not be my favourite song on the album but by heck it’s certainly one of the most impressive, especially since it eventually won me over as I took a liking to the electronic side of creative music and how it can display a whole new layer of storytelling.

And that’s the first five tracks of The Dream Walker album covered. Come back for Part 2 as I continue my review, covering the final five tracks. See you there!

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