Record Retrospectives #1: Relationship of Command

February 23, 2010

A long time ago I posted a Jawbreaker review and claimed I was going to go and talk about all these albums I loved. Well, fast forward a lot, and we’re finally here, and yes this is now number one, or at least, the first in the series. I’ll probably rewrite the old one, for completion’s sake. So with that out of the way, onto the review!

At The Drive-In is anything but easily accessible. Dense, cryptic lyrics, jarring dissonant guitars and the throat tearing erratic vocals of Cedric Bixler Zavala can be enough to turn anyone off. Yet, for some reason Relationship of Command is probably the easiest record I have ever connected with. From the minute I heard the opening track “Arcarsenal”, I was hooked. Soon it kept a consistent spot in my Sony Discman, every walk to school accompanied by the wails and feedback of the El Paso band. Never once did I question the weirdness, the abrasiveness of the music. Everything worked, and that is why the album has held up so well.

One aspect that was so appealing to me was the pure energy created by the music. Songs like “Cosmonaut” and “Pattern Against User” made me want to dance. Not that ridiculous windmilling-arms hardcore fare that plagues current concerts, but a more reserved, sensible spazzing out. If you watch a concert video of the band, frontman Cedric exemplifies this bizarre body movement, and often encouraged dancing, chastising those who turned to moshing or slamming each other. The strange stop start rhythms of the songs seem to defy a dance step, and yet they inspire natural reflexes.

The album isn’t all noise however, songs like “Invalid Letter Department” and “Quarantined” play with dynamics, encompassing piano highlighted passages and softer vocal delivery. The vocal differences between Cedric and rhythm guitarist Jim Ward are also a high point, the most notable instance being the “hit” song “One Armed Scissor”. Paul Hinojos’ bass slithers through every song, mixed perfectly in order to emphasize the crashing drums but not overwhelm the rest. Each member seems to have put forth the best performances in the band’s tenure, creating the most definitive vision of the group to date.

In fact, the band dynamic here is as strong as it would ever get, as the group would disband shortly after the release of this record. Cedric and Omar  would form the prog-rock group The Mars Volta, while Ward, Hinojos, and drummer Tony Hajjar would go on to create the more punk influenced Sparta. This split clearly defined the two dynamics that At The Drive-In held, and while both groups would go on to produce some quality albums, they would never return to the perfect balance between the hardcore punk and progressive sounds that were defined by Relationship of Command.

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