Vinyl Special – Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal, by Angels & Airwaves

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Released December 18, 2012

34 min, 58 sec

Angels & Airwaves’s intertwining history with blink-182 had an adverse effect of their albums after I-Empire. With Tom DeLonge now having to juggle his passion project with the band that made him famous enough to even have passion project at all, Angels & Airwaves began to experience delays that knocked its schedule entirely out of whack. LOVE, originally meant to be released on Christmas Day 2009, instead was pushed back to Valentine’s Day, 2010; LOVE Part Two was pushed back well over a year from its late 2010 release date, with the accompanying film (whose production began in 2008) finally being released alongside it in a multi-part package. DeLonge also mentioned the release of the film’s soundtrack, which contained bits and pieces of original music that did not appear on either parts of LOVE, which did not materialize for over a year, and when it did, ended up being a wholly disappointing album for fans.

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Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal is a two-part EP. The first disc contains the three tracks originally purported to be the missing parts of the LOVE soundtrack; instead, they are three instrumentals that, while interesting, aren’t really connected to the film at all. The second half of the EP contains five remixes of tracks from both LOVE albums. Good remixes, but nothing ground-breaking.

The problem that arose was the restructuring of Angels & Airwaves after the conclusion of the LOVE project. Atom Willard, the band’s drummer since its formation, left the band a month prior to the album’s release; this was known in advance for months prior to his departure, as the album specifically notes his contributions to be separate from the band as a whole. Willard was replaced upon the album’s release by Ilan Rubin, and DeLonge seemed to be engrossed by Rubin’s raw musical talent, to the extent that Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal is an EP comprised entirely of the duo of DeLonge and Rubin.

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It’s not as if Rubin was some out-of-nowhere, undiscovered talent; he’d made his name drumming for Lostprophets, and came into the forefront as a musician when he was recruited as the drummer for Nine Inch Nails during their 2009 Wave Goodbye tour, before he could even legally drink. A hard-hitting drummer with a significant amount of technical prowess and a jack-of-all-trades knowledge of other instruments, both traditional and electronic, Rubin essentially redefined Angels & Airwaves, and DeLonge refocused the band to practically center around Rubin. This is something that we’ll get into more when The Dream Walker, the first full album since the LOVE project, comes up, but Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal is notable in its feeling that it was the prototype for something bigger. The instrumentals are a showcase for Rubin’s electronic prowess, featuring very little of either David Kennedy or Matt Wachter; Wachter would later leave the band, though his departure was so that he could focus on his family, as opposed to any concerns about not being utilized as a musician. The remixes, on the other hand, seem like something DeLonge asked Rubin to do to fill out the EP.

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Adding to the problems with Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal was, of course, blink-182. LOVE Part Two went nearly head-to-head with blink’s Neighborhoods the year prior, and, as blink began working on new music towards the end of 2012, Phantom had the incredibly inconvenient problem of being released on the same day as blink’s Dogs Eating Dogs EP, which obviously outclasses Phantom in every way imaginable, though the comparison isn’t really that fair. DeLonge likely had very little time to work on anything for Angels, but didn’t want the band to fall by the wayside after adding a new member, and Phantom was scraped together as filler.

That’s not even mentioning the fact that the band’s primary engineer, Jeff “Critter” Newell, a treasured friend of DeLonge, died at the very end of 2011. With that weighing on him, DeLonge likely didn’t want to devote much time to Angels & Airwaves, and instead turned to blink for much of 2012, even though the band was already on the path to self-destruction once more by this point.

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Phantom isn’t completely pointless, however. It did help Rubin acclimate himself to the new band, and the addition of Rubin gave DeLonge a new point of focus for future album The Dream Walker, which took Angels in a completely new, exciting direction musically. As a stopgap project, it’s perfectly serviceable, if non-essential, and that’s fine. Not every release from a given band has to be a knockout; there are going to be missteps along the way. And when those missteps lead to an album like The Dream Walker, well, they’re usually pretty forgivable.

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