Grand Royal (7243 8 49999 2 6)
Every once in a while an album comes along in which the listener is overwhelmed with the sensation that if there was no release for this music, the artist may have died. This notion is the very height of pretension, and I love it. The concept of rock `n roll as an explosive medium is basically a lie-the number of bands that can twist your guts and make it feel good are few and far between, and their lifespan is almost always more insect than human.
Rock reaches its peak when its purveyors lose their fear. They embrace their pretensions and turn up the amp until it sounds honest. At the Drive-in are deadly serious. They give their songs titles like “Mannequin Republic” and “Rolodex Propaganda,” and words such as panacea, revenant, and enfilade get tossed around like most bands do love, baby, and bling-bling.
The images are violent, but never predictable. Consistent with many of their indie releases, themes of outer space and human interaction with the vast unknown are relied on heavily. More effectively than Bowie’s “Space Oddity” they use the concept of the space-explorer as a metaphor for experiences on earth. “One Armed Scissor,” like Bowie’s song, seems to compare an astronaut’s life with that of a drug user, but At the Drive-in takes it a step further, adding layer upon layer of meaning, all poetic, some genius.
And did I happen to mention the song rocks? Forget the Spiders From Mars, this is Sonic Youth-meets-Fugazi pure guitar power. This band incorporates the best of all the true believers of ‘loud’ that have come before it. For a few seconds you might hear the staccato of Metallica, the unrelenting riffs of The Stooges, the heartbeat of Public Enemy or the swirling haze of Alice in Chains. What you won’t hear is any Zeppelin-ish blues or Heavy Metal guitar-noodling, which is why this music tends to get classified as “post-punk.”
Aside from the angry vocals there really isn’t much to remind you of The Clash or Black Flag, but the D-I-Y aesthetic is definitely in full effect. These guys don’t give a damn about “falling in love with the girl at the rock show” like some other bands that get lumped into the post-punk genre, but the songs will sink their hooks in just the same. Like Fugazi’s final efforts, the music flirts with radio-friendly hooks then dissolves into its own world. It’s almost as if they’re showing you the ball, telling you they’ve got the skillz, then doing a quick cross-over leaving you standing in their dust.
Few songs have made we want to bang my head quite like “Cosmonaut,” a song which literally erupts, all the while asking the question: “Is it heavier than air - tell us, is the black box lying?” For people who care about this sort of thing, “Invalid Litter Dept.” contains, for my money, the greatest, most intense howl/scream in rock `n roll history, and “Rolodex Propoganda” features guest vocals from none other than the Godfather of noise himself, Iggy Pop.
At the Drive-in has built its reputation around their live show, which many consider to be the finest of its type currently in circulation. The boys from El Paso are actually taking a break these days, having toured so much that their brains needed a little down time. Relationship of Command is their first major-label release, although Grand Royal has recently gone under leaving the band’s future even more uncertain. After opening shows for Rage Against the Machine many fans thought siging a deal with a label capable of distributing to the masses might equal the dreaded “sell-out.” May I assure you this is not the case.
Embracing my pretensions, I, too, will turn up the amp and tell you that this is the finest rock record I have heard in years. There simply is no sign of weakness, no giving in to someone else’s idea of what sounds good. It has that quality of inspiration, the kind of music that makes you want to guy buy an axe and learn some power chords. The legend of The Velvet Underground states that they only sold 100,000 thousand records, but every single one of those buyers started a band. If experiencing At the Drive-in doesn’t make you want to howl into a microphone then you’re either too old, too dead, or too lazy to deserve a spot on stage.