AT THE DRIVE-IN: ACROBATIC TENEMENT (1996)
1) Star Slight; 2) Schaffino; 3) Ebroglio; 4) Initiation; 5) Communication Drive-In; 6) Skips On The Record; 7) Paid Vacation Time; 8) Ticklish; 9) Blue Tag; 10) Coating Of Arms; 11) Porfirio Diaz.
«Early Texan post-hardcore». Don't you just love it when it's that easy to pigeonhole? It's really the next step that is far more difficult to take. For instance, what is post-hardcore? If it really is something, is there any real need for it? Are there any generic traits of Texan post-hardcore that distinguish it from LA post-hardcore? Is this band good, or what?
So, instead of answering all these questions and drowning the review in terminology debates, let me just try to explain what the whole thing is like. Two interlocking guitars playing drones and jazz-influenced lead lines — an approach that reminds one of Television, only these guys are predictably louder and wilder. A lead vocalist with a heavy nasal twang who considers singing an affront to good taste, but is not strong enough for proper barking. Songs that are utterly unmemorable and often undistinguishable from each other, but still have invigorating potential. Impressionistic lyrics that never make the slightest sense, but still spit out the collective unconscious. And — poor, but not awful, production values (not bad for $600, I'd say).
Such is Acrobatic Tenement, an album that is usually said to capture At The Drive-In still in their formative phase. But since they eventually spent more time in the formative phase than in the fully formed one, we might just as well consider it their first «masterpiece», as far as this particular style of making music is concerned.
The problem with reviewing this style is that it does nothing for me. Except for the slower, bass-heavier, moodier «ballad» ʽInitiationʼ, where Bixler's vocals occasionally try to turn to falsetto, everything else sticks together in a shapeless mess. It is not a noisy mess: the guitars favor the drone over the chainsaw buzz, and the collective effect frequently lands in the same ballpark with Velvet Underground jams or even avantgarde jazz stuff. But there is nothing particularly fresh, startling, or interesting about this drone. The guitars don't play anything that you haven't already heard from the Velvets, Television, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, or some other bunch of smelly jerks; and Bixler seems capable of one single vocal intonation, which sounds invigorating on the first track, familiar on the second, predictable on the third, annoying on the fourth, irritating on the fifth, and from then on it's just KILL KILL KILL.
If you want a good sampling of what these guys can do best when they are «weaving» their guitars, check out ʽSkips On The Recordʼ with its mix of drones and wobbles; or ʽTicklishʼ, which has some nice speedy picking there — but only if you already have a propensity for this kind of music, because if you are not already genetically engineered to adore «post-hardcore», Acrobatic Tenement will probably not convince you. If you want to see these guys at their most obviously «heartfelt», check out ʽEbroglioʼ, dedicated to a close friend who committed suicide that year: perhaps Jim Ward's and Adam Amparan's guitars will inflict catharsis, and Bixler's singing will make the stars shine bright on a cloudy day.
But if you do not want anything by yourself, I am certainly not going to insist that you rush out and hear the album at all. At best, it is better than a lot of noisy, flash-in-the-pan hardcore that it grew out of. Can that be a compliment? Nope. In reality, At The Drive-In only recorded one good LP in their brief lifetime, and this one's not it. Thumbs down.
Check "Acrobatic Tenement" (MP3) on Amazon