At The Drive-In: Acrobatic Tenement (re-issue) – album review
At The Drive-In: Acrobatic Tenement (Transgressive Records)
Legendary Texas art-rockers At The Drive-In have had their first album re-issued by Transgressive Records, and Alana Turk revisits this rough, raw classic.
Nearly twelve years since they disbanded, At The Drive-In are set to reissue both their debut and final albums in short succession of one another. First released back in 1996, the bands debut album ‘Acrobatic Tenement’ brought with it a new wave of energy to underground communities and still remains one of the rawest insights into the band.
Looking back across the timeline of At The Drive-In’s success, it is quite difficult to assess the album as a standalone piece. Of course, as with most debut albums, ‘Acrobatic Tenement’ isn’t perfect – especially when you consider the excellence of some of the later releases – but it still represents the foundations of the band and shows how they built themselves into what the majority of fans remember them to be.
The album opens up with ‘Star Slight’. Combining layers of emotional, disjointed vocal melodies with relatively clean cut guitar riffs and persistent snare, makes for an edgy yet catchy rhythm. An ode to the band’s late friend, Julio Venegas, ‘Ebroglio’ begins with a spoken word poetic intro. It is a powerfully emotive track, consisting of fluctuating tempos, disheveled guitar and phenomenal lyricism from Cedric Bixler-Zavala. This song can be seen as an inclination to what At The Drive-In would eventually become. The same of which can be said for Bixler-Zavala’s distinctive oblique lyrical tendencies on songs such as ‘Skips on the Record’.
Other tracks on the album like ‘Initiation’ and ‘Coating of Arms’ demonstrate the bands earlier emo inspirations with plenty of attentive lyrics and swiftly changing dynamics in the deliverance of vocals. The former track begins slowly, with lingering feedback merging into solemn percussion. The sometimes delicate melodies contrast beautifully with the sinister lyrics about an obsessive fan stalking a celebrity – “Your telephone’s the one that helped me wrap the cord around your neck” – with Bixler-Zavala’s vocal intonations highlighted by the sombre ambiance.
The album comes to a hard hitting end with ‘Porfirio Diaz’. This song erupts with mangled, infectious punk riffs. Blasting changes in tempo teamed with and abundance of yelling make for an addictively haphazard and angry track – a great choice to end with.
Although for some ‘Acrobatic Tenement’ may only be seen as a prototype for At The Drive-In’s later releases, it continues to be wonderfully raw and expressive. The band have managed to capture and utilize the essence of subtlety, creating a remarkably understated record filled with an extensive soundscape of movements and tempo shifts. This album not only acts as a catalyst for the bands development, but is a timeless collection of unstable explosions in its rawest form. If, for whatever reason, you haven’t listened to At The Drive-In before, this reissue a good excuse for you to start from the very beginning.
Words by Alana Turk. More writing by Alana on Louder Than War can be found here.