The announcement mid-pandemic that The Airborne Toxic Event would release its first new album in five years was a nice surprise to fans. Hollywood Park (Rounder Records) was touted as a self-disclosing catharsis for band founder Mikel Jollett. In his memoir of the same name, which rocketed onto best-seller lists in June, Jollett displays a skillful and engaging style in describing his parents’ off-the-rails escape from a drug-rehab center and how he came to terms with divorced parents who proved uniquely incapable of pulling things together even after leaving the Synanon cult.
The musical release covers the same ground, but with more mixed results. The band has been famous for hard-driving, high-harmony folk-rock in the manner of The Lone Bellow. This is more traditional anthemic rock suggestive of Bruce Springsteen. It works very well in the title track and in songs like “The Common Touch,” though the sound can trip up on its own romanticism. Still, a simultaneous consumption of music and book will provide a unique look at the armor children can deploy when they grow up in cults.