At The Drive-In are an El Paso quintet, and this, their fourth long player, is released on the Beastie Boys' suffocatingly hip Grand Royal imprint and was birthed with the assistance of Slipknot producer Ross Robinson and "Nevermind" mixer Andy Wallace. Unsurprisingly given the track record of those involved, "Relationship Of Command" is a noisy, foaming, splenetic thing. Musically it crosses the seething fury of Six By Seven and, to a lesser extent, Rage Against The Machine, with traces of Rocket From The Crypt's scorching quiffabilly. The lyrics are angry, not in any expletive-flecked sense, but read like finely honed agit-poetry: I have no idea what they're banging on about, but it's clear that much effort has been expended. And buried in all of this are some fine, frantic melodies which only begin to become properly apparent after a handful of plays. Iggy Pop appears to add backing vocals on one track ("Rolodex Propaganda") , although you'd be hard-pressed to pinpoint his contribution amidst the squally sprawl. Nevertheless, despite all this goodness "Relationship Of Command" doesn't really hit the spot for me, mainly because it's music that's so far out of my normal listening orbit. But if it sounds like your sort of thing, rest assured that At The Drive-In's execution of it could hardly be bettered.
AT THE DRIVE-IN This Station Is Non-Operational (Fearless)
At The Drive-In were a band so rigorously principled that they disbanded at the apex of their success, ostensibly because they wanted to explore different musical territory. Their brief history is compiled on This Station Is Non-Operational, a single CD drawn from two-and-a-half of their three-and-a-half albums - presumably licensing issues prevented their 1996 debut Acrobatic Tenement contributing - and an alluring trove of radio sessions, rarities and previously unreleased bounty. Sadly, there are no contextualising booklet notes, so all you have to study is the music, some all-action live pictures and the songs terse, mysterious titles. (Had they existed back in the day when the NMEs pisstake page was actually funny the publication could have had a field day with the Burroughsian cut-ups of the likes of Picket Fence Cartel, Metronomic Arthritis or Doormans Placebo what price an At The Drive-In random title generator?)
In retrospect the progressive leanings of ATD-I successors The Mars Volta shouldnt have come as such a surprise, as the aforementioned Picket Fence Cartel clearly shows them flexing wings and taking a few tentative leaps, its hardcore-meets-free-jazz sounding rather less like side 2 of Kick Out The Jams than such a description might suggest. This disc is crammed with angry, shouty post-grunge at its experimental finest, as the screamalong chorus of Pickpocket and 198ds abstract near-balladry attest. Nevertheless, its the thunderous, hammering clarity of One Armed Scissor that crushes all before it, destined to remain their greatest contribution to humanity. Their crashing, kinetic performance of this song on the normally comfy Later With Jools Holland will remain forever etched on my memory.
If they never bettered One Armed Scissor, the increasingly elaborate sonic constructs found within the remainder of This Station Is Non-Operation certainly find them burrowing around the edges of its limiting template. Enfilade is splodged with electroclash and dubby, Morricone melodica wastelands; the opening of Non-Zero Possibility sounds like a concrete booted Eno sinking, gurgling, to the bottom of the Hudson. Autorelocator shifts from its opening electronic hailstorm to CCTV drum n bass and Ry Cooder-esque guitars echoing off the Iron Curtain. A schizophrenic, clanking, dub-heavy remix of Rascuache sounds like a spitting, fragmentary blueprint for their later work. Even their choice of cover versions sets them apart: from the dustier recesses of The Smiths back catalogue comes a faithful but still strangely foreign rendition of This Night Has Opened My Eyes, and Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk refracts the acid-fried psychedelia of Syds Pink Floyd through a desert heathaze.
Perhaps its a fitting tribute to At The Drive-Ins combustible career that This Station Is Non-Operational, for all its many charms, feels incomplete, ending before its completely decoded. Theres some very fine music here, but it will forever keep you at arms length.