At the Drive-In: Oh, how we miss you. Throughout the late 90’s, they were a powerful force both live and on record. No one piece of their discography can encompass all this as well as In/Casino/Out, a studio album where, trying to capture the high energy of their live show, the band decided should be played live in studio. What this accomplished was perhaps a bit rawer sound than can be found on their preceding two albums, but In/Casino/Out is still another shining example of why At the Drive-In is one of the most influential bands not only of post-hardcore, but of the 90’s in general.
At the Drive-In includes:
Cedric Bixler-Zavala- Vocals
Omar Rodriquez-Lopez- Lead Guitar
Jim Ward- Rhythm Guitar, Keys, Vocals
Paul Hinojos- Bass
Tony Hajjar- Drums
Although generally, one of their other three major albums (Acrobatic Tenement, Relationship of Command, and the Vaya EP) are cited as their best work and/or works, after listening, In/Casino/Out refuses to be cast off as merely a great album in the back catalogue of At the Drive-In. The album hits you immediately with Alpha Centauri, a hard hitting song about what At the Drive-In liked to write about the most: Nothing anyone could figure out. Although far from the best song on the album, it summarizes the album up well fast and early: emotional, technical, and nonsensical. The first standout track comes immediately after in Chanbara, featuring a heavy and rolling bass line from Paul and the first of many memorable anthemic lines from Cedric- “Tour de force! Tour De Force! Defacto! Ayuchuco!” Although it is still anyone’s guess what they’re talking about, you can’t help but feel the force in the words, and you may even assign inane meanings to certain lines, just in an attempt to connect with the music more.
Oh, but wait, a song that seems to have…words we actually recognize? Hulahoop Wounds apparently tells the story of a small ghost town, but even with an understandable set of lyrics, the most impressive part of the song is still the high level of playing everyone in the band sets their mark at. Omar and Jim have two more great, intertwining guitar lines written, and the drumming from Tony keeps the song on track, while avoiding that boring pitfall many drummers fall into when surrounded by such talented band mates. Napoleon Solo has one of the best guitar parts on the album, blending in with what, for ATD-I, can be considered a tender vocal performance. The bombastic chorus shows signs of some of their later works (In fact, Quarantined on Relationship draws quite a bit from the song.),and marks the highlight of the first half of the album.
Pickpocket reverts back to the fun style seen on Hulahoop, and is one of the catchier songs on the album. ”More caliber per capita” will stick in your mind more than any Panic! At the Disco lyric will, and the strange narrative (about a child getting stuck in a refrigerator. Yes, Cedric is definitely in this band) will make you wonder why anyone ever actually tries to make sense. For Now...We Toast is the first track where you may go “Well, it’s good, but it sounds a little samey”, which is perhaps the only general weakness of the album. It still shows off some trademark technicality, and near the end the song picks up and develops its own unique persona (and no, its not “steamroll the salami”, it’s “they steamrolled past the lobby”…oh, was I the only one to make that mistake?).
After For Now...We Toast, however, the album does hit a slight drop off n quality. It’s nothing major, but it’s still noticeable, especially after the brutal assault of amazing songs that have preceded it. A Devil Among the Tailors is the most overlong song on the album; although it only comes in at around three and a half minutes, there isn’t enough real variation in the music to warrant even that playtime. It still shows some more interesting drum and guitar lines, and despite all its shortcomings, is still the bass peak of the album. Paul drops a killer line and solo in the song, with a nifty voice backdrop. Shaking Hand Incision is probably the least interesting song musically on the album, not necessarily being any kind of retread, just not sticking out in very many ways. However it’s lyrically one of the most powerful songs ATD-I had ever recorded, being about how a past abortion affected a woman, and the line “No wire coat hangers… NEVER AGAIN!” will haunt you for days. Lopsided seems to be something of a transition, from the emotional assault of Shaking Hand Incision onto the next track. It’s melodic, mellow, heavy, and intense, sometimes separately and sometimes all at once. If it was perhaps cut down a bit, it would make more of an impact, but being only slightly less in length than Napoleon Solo (at 4:40), and with far less variation, it drags on a bit. However, after three good, but not great tracks, we move back into territory we’re all familiar with when it comes to At the Drive-In: songs that mean a million different things, yet feel like they only pertain to you.
Hourglass is the jewel of the entire ATD-I discography. Although generally it is Cedric giving the great vocal performances for the group, Jim comes up strong on this one, albeit sounding extremely similar to Cedric. There’s a feeling you get when you listen to your favorite music, whether it be Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Queen, Bad Religion, or hell, even NWA and Hall & Oates, that you just can’t get over. Hourglass is one of those rare songs that to the vast majority of those who listen to it, disregarding what you think of At the Drive-In, the Mars Volta, Sparta, and hardcore in general, you cant help but be entranced by. Again, the vocal performance by Jim is outstanding, and although there is debate among whether or not he sings the song (or even wrote it), the subtle differences can give it away (the way “I’m all alone so far up here, and my oxygen’s all gone” is sung is one of the telltale signs) to anyone who has listened to a good amount of ATD-I. The guitar, drums, and bass all compliment the music perfect, with the bass and drum keeping the song moving along perfectly while Omar goes off on one of the best Omar-“wank” moments in the history of At the Drive-In. The song is one of my favorite songs of all time, and although it doesn’t represent the album very well by itself, it’s still a beautiful piece of work, and well worth a listen to anyone with a preference for rock in general. With the upbeat and energetic number Transatlantic Foe, ATD-I wrap up the album well. The beginning is quite reminiscent of Pickpocket and Hulahoop Wounds off of the first half of the album, but it quickly goes into a much more frenzied mood, and summarizes the musical territory of the album well.
In/Casino/Out is, for some reason, overshadowed by all of At the Drive-In’s other efforts. Acrobatic Tenement may be a tad crazier, Vaya may be a bit more beautiful, and Relationship of Command…well, Relationship of Command is better, but In/Casino/Out still showed the band at the highest energy it’s shown on record. The live recording may have caused the vocals to come out a bit harsher than they could have, but it still works perfectly for whets going on throughout the album. If it wasn’t for the slight lull near the end of the album, In/Casino/Out could have been their strongest output. As it stands, it’s the most powerful of their studio albums, and has quite a bit of everything that made At the Drive-In such an influential band. Although it may not be as accessible as Relationship is, for any fan of At the Drive-In, hardcore, or even Deloused from The Mars Volta, this album is a required listen. For anyone who doesn’t fit into that category, pick it up anyways; it probably has a song or two to suit your needs perfectly. Unless you do get that special feeling from Hall & Oates. Then, maybe you should pass.