At The Drive-In – Acrobatic Tenement (Reissue)

Acrobatic Tenement, the 1996 debut album from Texas post-hardcore quintet At The Drive-In, became the template from which the band derived their continued influence to the world of bombastic rock. In hindsight, the album captures the group’s intensity and its unstable emotive power. Recorded over only a few days, and produced alongside Blaze James and Doug Green, Acrobatic Tenement is half an hour of raw post-hardcore and punk. This reissue doesn’t bring with it any bonus tracks, but it does remind us of the band’s inherently melodramatic style – as well as how it developed such a powerful aesthetic.

Opening with Star Slight, a punk-pop swagger is presented through combining relatively clean yet edgy guitars with an agitated yet dance-worthy rhythm. Omar Rodrí­guez-Lí³pez sits in on bass at this point in the band’s progression, with Jim Ward and Adam Amparan manning the guitars. This downplays the tremendous intricacy with which Rodrí­guez-Lí³pez plays, marking the album’s aesthetic as less metallic and less progressive than their 2000 release, Relationship Of Command. There is less experimentation; Schaffino follows a strong rock formula, and seems to resemble a somewhat harder-edged Strokes tune.

Ebroglio, an ode to the late Julio Venegas, begins with a poetic spoken-word intro. The powerfully emotive nature of this track is highlighted through Bixler-Zavala’s extraordinary lyricism. The guitar feedback intro of Initiation flows into solemn percussion, with the naive vocal intonations of Bixler-Zavala brought to the foreground of the moody post-punk ambiance. The ringing guitars of Skips On The Record are well controlled; the song makes full use of the band’s ability to instantaneously change momentum. The LP’s final track, Porfirio Diaz, is teeming with catchy and melodic punk riffs.

Despite its raw aesthetic, Acrobatic Tenement pales in comparison to the intricacies of 2000’s Relationship Of Command. It is less figurative and not quite as bombastic. However, it remains terrifically raw and poetically expressive, acting as a catalyst for the band’s dramatic development. It is understated and unstable, and although the sound quality isn’t the best, the LP reminds us that the genesis of At The Drive-In was one which was truly riveting. As one of the few post-hardcore bands which held the ability to truly utilise subtlety and shifting dynamics, At The Drive-In displayed – even in their debut release – the power to make a tremendous and long-lasting impact.