Monday, August 18, 2003

Music Sounds Better With You #9

'Cosmonaut' - At The Drive-In

Strange as it may seem at a time when a band like The Hiss can stride colossus-like across the musical landscape snorting everything they can find and making James Oldham a wealthier man, but for a short time - the second half of 2000 - there was only one band on everyone's lips, and it wasn't The Strokes, The White Stripes or The Fucking Vines. In fact, they weren't a garage band at all. It was At The Drive-In.

As soon as I read about them, I knew I had to hear them. I ended up buying an issue of Kerrang! that summer just for the ATD-I track that was included on the free compilation CD - and that's why #9 is 'Cosmonaut' and not the more obvious 'One-Armed Scissor'. I remember playing the track again and again, and being gutted that they didn't play it live when I saw them for the first and only time at Leeds that August. Though they were very good then, I didn't appreciate quite what a monumental record Relationship Of Command was going to be.

Fuck anyone who whinges about the record's major label release, or the involvement of producer Ross Robinson, hitherto (in)famous only for giving the world Korn and consequently (if unintentionally) that most abhorrent of genres, nu-metal. Normally I'm all for championing small independent labels that struggle to make ends meet and the bands who populate their rosters. However, compare Relationship Of Command with their earlier releases and it's immediately evident that, with the aid of a top producer and the financial wherewithal that comes with major label backing, At The Drive-In were suddenly able to hone their on-edge sound and channel their on-stage energy into an astonishing album that blows everything that had gone before to smithereens. There are promising stirrings on In / Casino / Out, El Grand Orgo, the 'Vaya' EP and Acrobatic Tenement, all acquired in the wake of getting Relationship Of Command, but nothing that quite prepares you for the full-throttle onslaught of the latter. Whereas the earlier records sound slight and gawky, Relationship Of Command is a electrifying firecracker of an album, packs a serious punch, and is probably the most relentlessly intense and sonically ferocious record in my collection.

Jumping into bed with The Man did ultimately have disastrous consequences, though - commercial pressures and the media merry-go-round hastened the band's demise before they'd had a chance to better Relationship Of Command. Catapulted into the frenzy of the limelight almost overnight from the underground scene with which they were comfortable, it was inevitable that it wouldn't be long before they started falling apart. And the falling apart happened spectacularly, and in public. Their legacy includes perhaps the most discordant and unhinged 'Later With Jools Holland' performance ever. What was supposed to be 'One-Armed Scissor' (an absolutely extraordinary single and statement of intent) became a sprawling buzzing car-crash of a song - Cedric Bixler grabbing a chair and throwing it around the studio, Omar Rodriguez deciding about a minute in that he couldn't be bothered to play the guitar line and instead concentrating on flinging himself about and making as much random noise as possible, Jim Ward manfully trying to hold it all together while his bandmates seemed to be doing their utmost to sabotage the recording. The faultlines were already evident, and in 2001, after some aborted recording sessions for a follow-up LP, they announced an "indefinite hiatus" which became permanent - although their loss wasn't much lamented in the music media that had fawned over them barely six months before, as The Strokes and The White Stripes were on the scene by this point.

Thankfully, that wasn't the last we'd see of them. At The Drive-In have fractured and mutated into two very special bands, The Mars Volta and Sparta, each remarkable in their own way. Perhaps more importantly from the point of view of my musical tastes, however, they encouraged me to investigate Fugazi's back catalogue (though I'd seen them in 1999 they'd still not quite clicked with me), and opened my eyes to a whole host of American bands I'd never heard before. Although it might seem strange to suggest that At The Drive-In prompted my discovery of bands as diverse as The Promise Ring and The Icarus Line, that's the way it happened, and for that I'm eternally grateful - to the extent that I can even overlook The Mars Volta's more outrageously pretentious moments...

Inspired a love of: Fugazi, Juno, The Dismemberment Plan, The Icarus Line, Burning Airlines, Cave In, Les Savy Fav, The Mars Volta, Sparta, Bluetip, Hundred Reasons, The Get-Up Kids, Jetplane Landing, The Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World, Faraquet, Vendetta Red, Q And Not U...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post. I feel the same way wholeheartedly.