Monday, August 24, 2009

Top 50 albums of the 00s - #49, At the Drive-In: Relationship of Command

Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.

At 2:46 into the first song, Cedric Bixler-Zavala inserts a shrieking gasp into his hollering that surely must be an accident. It borders on comedy. I never noticed it before today, yet I think it matters because it highlights that this was a band going for broke. They had already built a following for their screamy rock, but had only found their real stride on the previous EP, Vaya. But they truly unleashed everything they had in their 2000 album, even deploying Iggy Pop in a distracting cameo that somehow worked to great effect. The record is an all-out assault. The few "quiet" moments still feel disconcerting before they revert to all hell breaking loose all over again. Needless to say, this is not an album for everyone. But it certainly is for me.

It's hard not to notice the song construction here. Every note is punctuated. This album is built with nails, tacks, and other sharp objects. Laid across those pointy things, the production lends a slick polish that accentuates the intensity while at the same time giving the songs the flow they need. I almost want to say that there is a groove here, but that would be awfully misleading. I guess what I'm saying is, the tacks and nails aren't the rusty kind you find in a junkyard. They are fresh from the box and ready to do their damage.

For me, there's no better album for the moments when you're looking to shake things up. It can turn sullen into angry, bored into unnerved, and content into manic. When deployed correctly, this can be a wonderful tool. For instance, this record once single-handedly saved a bachelor party weekend in Vegas. I'm serious. Yet on top of the visceral feeling, there are moments so over the top, you have to take a breath and note them. What Bixler-Zavala does in the finish to "Invalid Litter Dept." is something to behold. "Cosmonaut" knocks the listener around from start to finish, but you can still dance to it.

To be honest, I hadn't listened to this album in a while, but a feeling kept nagging me that it had to be included here. I gave it another spin, and sure enough, it's fantastic in its own way. Does that sound like a backhanded compliment? I didn't mean it that way. Certainly it's not perfect. When someone is screaming his head off like this, you wish that the lyrics were a bit more compelling. And there's no individual musicianship that you can point to as being "incendiary." But the whole outdoes the sum of the parts here, and just writing about the album gets me fired up. The band broke up after this release, splitting into two lesser groups, Sparta and Mars Volta. But maybe that was just as well. To top their output here would have been unlikely.

Previous Entries:
#50 - Rival Schools: United by Fate

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