At the Drive-in has a bit of an odd approach to recording their music. With their second LP, In/Casino/Out
, they decided to record it as if they were playing live, hoping to capture the energy exuded from their much-hyped live performances. With their debut LP, Acrobatic Tenement
, they decided to borrow some of their friend’s equipment, get high and/or drunk, and with the basis of many of the songs already down-pat, improvise the rest. The result is a true look into the lives of a bunch of teenagers with a very large vocabulary and a love of obscure metaphors.
Before listening to this album, the closest I had ever come to post-hardcore was Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends
. At the time, I thought its back-and-forth vocals and emotional lyrics were passionate, but after a listen to the emotional yells and layers of shouting in the opening track, Star Slight
it was a whole new world to me. I never knew that shouting could be so catchy that it made want to get up out of my seat and dance. When the song was over after a mere one minute and eighteen seconds, I was heart-broken and craving much more. Although there may have not been another song quite as catchy there were certainly some more filled with greater emotion.
comes to mind. It’s a tribute to the band’s fallen friend, Julio Venegas (also the topic of The Mars Volta’s Deloused in the Comatorium
. In the intro, Cedric Bixler-Zavala proclaims:
“I had a friend who died for something he really loved/I had a friend who stood for none of the above”
This intro serves as the eulogy, and the rest of the song describes the funeral procession, and during the chorus Bixler-Zavala bursts into denial screaming:
“It’s all a facade/It’s all a facade/It’s all a facade/And nothing really matters now”
The end result is one of the most emotional songs I’ve ever heard. Another close contender for this honor could be Initiation
, a song about a crazed fan stalking a female celebrity. It’s got a very slow opening, as feedback lingers in the air, and finally a cymbal heavy drumbeat enters, followed by the rest of the band. Bixler-Zavala sings about stalking the girl in his usual obscure method:
“Perforated into tiny fragments/Heavy breathing's your new fan club/John Hancock with the safety off/After every show”
In the chorus, guitarist/backup vocalist, Jim Ward, adds on to this by yelling “There’s no restraining order to keep me from you”
. The creepiest part about the song is that it’s hard not to shout along when the two describe strangling the woman to death.
Even some of the more musically upbeat tracks have dark lyrics. For example, despite having a care-free sound to it Skips on the Record
is an ode to teenage pregnancy, with a slight reference to the insurgencies at Tiennamen Square in China
The instrumentation on the album is pretty simple, as far as effects go. All of the instruments were borrowed from another band, as I stated in the intro, so there is minimal distortion and effects. Adam Amparan plays lead guitar while Jim Ward plays rhythm. The two come up with some nice riffs with a couple solos here and there. The standout track for the guitars is Ticklish
. The chorus contains a catchy-as-hell riff that’ll get you playing some air guitar. Also, during Star Slight
there is also a brief “solo” underneath all the shouting by Ward and Bixler-Zavala.
The bass is played by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez on this album, however, he plays lead guitar on the rest of the band’s albums. He doesn’t exactly do anything extraordinary with the bass, though on a few tracks such as Ticklish
the rest of the band gives way to him during the post-chorus. However, it’s often hard to hear the bass due to the poor sound quality and the fact that it was lent to them, and was very hard for them to keep in tune.
I’m not sure if it’s (once again) a problem with the sound quality, but the drums, played by Ryan Sawyer, sound very “cymbal-heavy”. Sawyer keeps a steady beat throughout the album and nothing, other than the over-use of cymbals, really stands out, except for a little interesting bit at the end of Paid Vacation Time
where Sawyer ends the song with a drum roll.
The production of this album is also a huge part of determining if you will enjoy it. As stated above, it was recorded late at night in the middle of July, with all of the band members either drunk or high. The most blatant proof of this is on the track Ticklish
where lead singer, Cedric Bixler-Zavala yells “It’s on the roof of my mouth/I’m gonna find the words/It’s on the roof of my mouth”
, which as he admitted in later interviews was because he had forgotten the original lyrics to the song and started ad-libbing. The band’s lack of money prevented them from re-recording or doing any extensive mixing, so they kept the album the way it was and released it. Due to this, the sound quality is pretty poor, but it does help add the atmosphere. Listening to the album, even when in a well-lit room, you get the feeling it is very dark out, just like the band’s surroundings when they recorded. Also, the ad-libbing of the lyrics and energy put into the singing of the lyrics makes you feel like you are there with them. It’s a great example of the raw punk that just couldn’t quite be captured on the bands other two LPs.
I’ve read other reviews on other websites and each one has said how this album lacks the energy of their other albums. I personally disagree with this a great deal. I believe this an example of punk in its rawest form. What’s more raw than a bunch of teenage kids full wasted out of their minds, screaming at the top of their lungs about killing the rich kids at their schools? This is no doubt a classic 5/5.
-Raw, unadulterated punk
-Poor sound quality
-Nothing extraordinary musically, compared to later releases