by Kevin Sterne
17 years is a long time to hang with a feeling. But that’s what this so-called “emo revival” is propped on. Nostalgia is what brought Mike Kinsella devotees out of hiding for a second American Football LP. And why the Internet shuts down over so much as a rustle from Brand New’s camp. The Lonesome, Crowded West. Full Collapse. What it Feels Like to Be Something On. These are pillars of 90’s, lower middleclass suburbanite feelings. Whatever you call it, be emo, post-hardcore or “screamo”—At the Drive-in’s Relationship of Command was the high-water mark for which all subsequent music was weighed against.
No band played with as much cathartic energy, or barely corralled violence (however you want to view Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s relationship with a microphone stand). The El Paso four-piece was in another stratosphere with their sonic intensity, and that’s exactly how the media portrayed them in the ironic quest to commercialize a band that was so sincerely anti-mainstream. When the closest comp at the time was Nirvana’s Nevermind it’s easy to see how At the Drive-in was unlike any band in the 1990’s.
So how’s the music 17 years later? In•ter a•li•a is a return to familiarity in the same way Saosin’s Along the Shadow of a Man sought to be. It satiates a need for aggressive, post-hardcore without eyeshadow and every song is relentless. Omar Rodriquez Lopez still plays like he’s trying to break his guitar in half, manic and unrestrained (no more clearly than on the song “Continuum”). Bixler-Zavala’s lyrics still land on the spectrum between cryptic and nonsensical: Smuggled in their faith like an orbit in decay // Drools the cloying adulation of piss ants // One shot for every snitch leads the needle to the stitch. The rhythm section is still a raw, stutter-stop conglomeration. There’s even those little interludes of noise following each song.
All the pieces are there. “Incurably Innocent” and “Call Broken Arrow” empty the adrenaline glands just like their predecessors: “Cosmonaut” and “Mannequin Republic.” It’s not a stretch to imagine “Pendulum In A Peasent Dress” tucked between “Sleepwalk Capsules” and “Invalid Litter Dept.”
The band followed their blueprint and delivered an album that checks a lot of musical boxes, but missing is the context of its construction.
In 1999-2000, Emo/post-hardcore was riding a wave (cresting with “One Armed Scissor”), washing up the sediment of: The face palm that was Y2K; the now tame cluster fuck of the Bush v Gore election; American Beauty; Nu Metal; and Fucking Nu Metal. Relationship of Command held a mirror to the lunacy of Adidas rock, consumerist mall shopping and the tech boom. But In•ter a•li•a cannot deliver the same effect.
This isn’t a failure of its design, it’s a failure of our time. The world we know is beyond satirical in representation. 2017 cannot be pinned down through funhouse lyrics masquerading as a dystopic metanarrative. We are a society numb to nonsense, and few among us have the attention span to decode lines like these: TV’s gonna comm lag, jettison the populace // Disassociation in the belly of the beast // Break the fourth wall, break the fourth wall come on // Lobotomize the question of my infinitude. Bixler-Zavala need look no farther than Jon Mess of Rise Record’s label mate, Dance Gavin Dance for lyrics inundated with sarcasm and misanthropy and cynicism.
With so much to distract us, it would take a post-post-modern version of human centipede with Trump, Kellyanne Conway and Putin in the lead roles for us to unplug from the Zucklord and actually pay attention.
I’ll just live out my remaining days in my Relationship of Command echo chamber.
Join me in the echo chamber where I’ve befriended The Waldo’s Special Ale. Purportedly the dankest and hoppiest beer Lagunitas rolled. This ale smokes contemporaries in the imperial IPA game. Hyper citrus fruits cover the heavy alcohol—but unlike Dogfish Head’s multi-minute ales or Stones palate ruiner, the Waldo’s creamy caramel and melon finish won’t leave your tongue tasting gravel.
Kevin Sterne is a writer and journalist based in Chicago, the editor of LeFawn Magazine. Apart from Shuga Records, he’s written about beer and music for Mash Tun Journal, The Tangential and Substream Magazine. His creative fiction has appeared in Drunk Monkeys, Potluck Mag, Defenestration, Praxis Magazine, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and Word Eater, among many others.