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POP MUSIC | Record Rack

Now Playing: Raw Passion

At the Drive-In's first major-label effort delivers deeply felt, sometimes perplexing, stream of consciousness.

*** 1/2 AT THE DRIVE-IN, "Relationship of Command," Grand Royal/Virgin

September 10, 2000|STEVE HOCHMAN

Some bands make a bold first impression. Others require time to absorb. The best often manage both, and that's the case with this El Paso quintet's major-label debut.

From the first notes of "Arc Arsenal" there's a bracing immediacy to the angular music and Cedric Bixler's high howl, brought into sharp relief by producer Ross Robinson (Korn, Limp Bizkit). As in the band's kinetic live performances, the sound touches on the spirit of the agit-punk of '60s activists MC5, '90s indie icons Fugazi (especially the choppy, two-guitar counterpoint of Omar Rodriguez and Jim Ward) and today's Rage Against the Machine. But there's a subtler depth and individuality as well in both music and lyrics that has led to association with "emo-core," the umbrella term for a wave of punk-rooted bands that prize emotional expression over sociopolitical agendas.

Compared with Rage, ATDI's topical matter is a bit vague, as Bixler favors poetry over polemics. His passions are a bit hard to pin down--he's simply passionate about passion. But he certainly delivers a churning stream of consciousness, producing seemingly disjointed yet engaging Beat-poet word jumbles, whether in the paranoiac dream world of "Sleepwalk Capsules" or the meditation on abandonment and isolation in "One Arm Scissor."

Most seductive is the half-spoken "Invalid Litter Dept.," with lifting grace added to the power. Here he paints a disturbing, surreal landscape around disconnected medical imagery ("Paramedics fell into the wound/Like rehired scabs at a barehanded plant"), the music shifting between soothing and unsettling. A few more touches of such grace and contrast would be beneficial, but this band (which plays the Glass House in Pomona on Oct. 4) is young and has the raw material to be in it for the long haul.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums will be in stores Tuesday.

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