Here are the album reviews I wrote for the June issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo last week.
-At the Drive In (Rise/Hostess)
It probably says more about At the Drive In’s place in post-millennial music that no one really compares them to the follow-up band the two main members—vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez—dissolved in 2013. Of course, Mars Volta was a progressive rock band whereas ATDI was closer to punk, but they had much more in common than people gave them credit for, in particular a manic, deliberate energy that felt unique. Thirteen years after their last album, ADTI might appear to be taking up exactly where they left off, but only if you ignore Mars Volta, which, for all their operatic excess, really were progressive. In-ter a-li-a isn’t. It revives the gymnastic excitement of the group’s peerless interactivity but sounds even more dated than 90s pop punk: That train left the station for the last time. It’s also very much Bixler-Zavala’s album whereas their masterpiece, Relationship of Command, was a thoroughly group effort. The lyrics, which reference up-to-the-minute issues such as the Korean standoff and that Oklahoma police officer who raped all those women, are meant to mean something and as such are more distracting than enlightening, because whatever talents Bixler-Zavala has demonstrated as a performer he’s famous for his incoherence. It’s what made ADTI exciting in their day. For sure, the guitars still sound like God is tuning them, and the funky undercurrents pulse like crazy, but there’s a feeling of playing it safe, as if this is what’s expected of them and they’re now older, wiser, and more receptive to what their fans want. Which is sort of a shame, because I was finally getting to like what Mars Volta was trying to do. The British shoegaze band, Slowdive, has taken even longer to follow up their last album—22 years—and their self-titled return to recording actually sounds as if they’ve been spending all that time wondering how to approach it. Like In-ter a-li-a, Slowdive sounds methodical, calculated, but for a band that is mostly about textures and dynamic subtleties that’s the way it should be. Shoegaze is by definition not very spontaneous. It’s thoughtful. It’s also pop by any other name, and I would like to think that, unlike Kevin Shields, who also spent an inordinate amount of time coming up with a successor to Loveless, the members of Slowdive spent their long summer vacation working on tunes, because that’s what immediately grabs you, not the textures or the dynamics. The guitar work, especially on the single, “Star Roving,” is riff rock at its most potent in 2017, meaning music made by adults who knew what they liked when they were younger and are still able to recall those feelings and translate them into affecting music. What’s surprising is that they’ve been able to keep the polish without losing the personality. At the Drive In would have benefited from such restraint, though it’s so contrary to their form. Continue reading