1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 428

Relationship of Command, by At The Drive In
Suggested by Matt Smith

A few albums ago, I reviewed an instrumental album.

I gave it 4/10, in part, but by no means entirely, due to the lack of lyrics. My review led to an innocent question, that led to a period of reflection and an epiphany of self-awareness.

The question?

“Do you like any music without lyrics?”

Traditionally, I roll my eyes when an instrumental track appears on an otherwise standard album. And albums that are wholly instrumental? Hard pass. Then again, I have scored some instrumentals well, including Tokyo Jukebox by Marty Friedman, and Shatter Me by Lindsey Sterling.

My opinions on vocal-free albums are mixed. I answered the question by sating my status as a writing hobbyist gave me a love of words that likely permeated my thoughts on instrumental tracks in general. But the question promoted further thinking; I’m well documented for my dislike of certain vocal styles, such as the Death Metal Growl (DMG). Are these standpoints somehow connected?

Yes. They are.

One issue with the DMG is that it’s unintelligible. It’s a belching dirge, a harrumphing bassoon. In a real sense, it’s not a vocal at all: it’s an instrument. Similarly, when I’ve criticised other genres for their vocal shortfalls, such as mumbling Rap or Emo Screaming, or even non-English delivery, my bone of contention has been comprehension. If I can’t understand it, game over.

This leads me to Relationship of Command, by At The Drive In.

At The Drive In are an Emo Post-Hardcore act from Texas, with a stuttering twenty-seven year history. Relationship of Command, their third album, is loved by fans and critics alike. It placed twelfth on NME’s Albums of the Decade, and 37th on Kerrang’s Most Influential Albums of All Time list. High praise indeed.

And yet.

On one hand, I enjoyed it. My dread at Yet Another Emo Album gave way to respect as the music meandered through my mind. It feels fresh, after twenty years, avoiding the turgidity and introspection that plague the genre. There’s a frenetic aggression to this punk pop, and tracks like my standout One Armed Scissor and the Iggy Pop guesting Rolodex Propaganda do much to get the adrenaline flowing and the eyes shining. Even the brooding tracks, like the spacious Enfilade, have the power to kick you in the teeth.

My complaint, as always, is the vocal. This time, it’s the anxious and wheedling emo scream. While it’s nowhere near as egregious as others of its ilk – in fact, it’s actually restrained for its forward-facing presentation – it’s still enough to have me balk at the threshold, flowers in hand, ready to quit the blind date at the new restaurant in favour of a night in, on my own, with a kebab.

It saddens me to think that something so binary is causing me to discard things which I may otherwise enjoy. And the ramifications of this notion, on other genres and albums, are disquieting. Am I really so basic? Can I not break the chains that tether me to the Tree of Easy Listening?

As things stand, Relationship of Command gets 5/10. I’m not ready to overlook its palpable and personal shortcomings. But it has provided food for thought, and may have unblocked the sluiceways to a greater appreciation of other works in due course.

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