Liner Notes

Sunday, April 17, 2016

At The Drive-In // Acrobatic Tenement

Recorded at Commercial Soundworks in Hollywood, CA in July, 1996
2013 Reissue
Translucent Red
Standard Gram
Favorite Track "Ticklish"


The album that introduces you to a band will be your favorite. I have found this to be true again and again. Is it possible you heard the band's best record first? Sure, but it's more likely you've developed an emotional connection to that particular sound and developed expectations of their future records.

My buddy Steve got me into ATDI in my junior year of high school. He was a big proponent of In/Casino/Out, but my local record store didn't have it so I bought Acrobatic Tenement instead. At the Drive-In's first LP is rough, raw, and pretty goddamn punk. The recording is technically a mess. There's a second guitar buried under there somewhere, but I can't be sure. But holy hell do I love this record. It's almost like listening to the record Minor Threat would have made before starting Fugazi.

When this record starts, I find myself in the parking lot of PetSmart in Reno, Nevada, in my '92 Pontiac Grand Prix eating Famous Amos cookies. I would listen to the A-side of this CD...


... more often than the B because my breaks only lasted fifteen minutes. I pushed carts and the girl I liked, who worked in the fish department, was dating the asshole manager, Mike, so I sat in my car and listened to this album. It's deep in my bones. I'm sure if I went back through the records I recorded when I was younger, you'd find enough ATDI-DNA to convict me of copyright infringement.

I may be in the minority, but I always liked this band more than Sparta or the Mars Volta. Cedric and Omar get a little too noodley for my taste when left to their own devices. Jim Ward's songs end up too straightfoward in Sparta. At the Drive-In was my perfect bowl of porridge. To borrow from Gestalt psychology, which I studied the semester I heard this record, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

At the Drive-In is reuniting (again) this year and I have tickets to see them next month. Just before heading out on tour, Jim Ward left the band (again). My friends assure me they still rock so I'm not terribly worried, but I wish he would join them for recording. His contributions will be sorely missed.

I saw them in San Francisco on their tour with the Murder City Devils on the Relationship of Command tour. They were ferocious live, but to the great detriment of their playing ability. I didn't realize they were playing "Embroglio" until the chorus. It was that noisy. It split Reno in half.

Were you there for indie/emo/post-hardcore (categorizing ATDI was never easy) or rock 'n roll? To quote a deleted scene from Pulp Fiction, "You're either a Beatles man or an Elvis man." Though I love both bands, I'm a Beatles man.

They reinvented themselves on every record. You can hear a b-side and know exactly which era it came from. I still own my Relationship of Command hoodie and I'm proud to announce it still fits. I'm looking forward to their new material, and promise I won't hold them to the impossible standard they've set with an incredibly strong discography. Glad to see them moving forward and creating. It would be easy for them to keep touring on the jukebox hits. They've provided the soundtrack to my adult life, so to get more music is a gift. Also, I'm grateful to them for helping me recognize a few headliners at Coachella.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Nirvana // Unplugged In New York

Recorded on November 18, 1993
Pressed at the Pallas Plant in Germany


Mastered for vinyl from the original analog master tapes at Bernie Grundman Studios

2013 Reissue 

Favorite track "Dumb"

I can identify this record from the crowd's applause before a single note is played. I must confess I only recently acquired this album, though I've owned the CD since the mid 90s. Kinda. I acquired  this album as part of my Dad's Columbia House CD subscription service. Why I can remember that is beyond me. I loved the little stamps that represented each record. I used to make my dream lists of records and then systematically eliminate the ones that I didn't want. Even at twelve, I was insane.


My Dad was great at fostering a love of music. He let me choose one CD from his subscription service each month. My hair was absolutely blown away by Nevermind, so I expected this record to be equally as magical. But young Nick didn't give a shit. Gone was the raw fury of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and the vicious drumroll which kicks off "Breed." At this point in my life, these were the hardest, gnarliest songs I'd ever heard. I was young and angry and wanted shit to be loud. Nirvana was everything. I would mosh around my room trying not to knock over my drip candles and lava lamp.

But this fucking record was nothing like it. It was sit-down, acoustic bullshit. At least that's what I thought at the time. I gave the CD back to my Dad who loved it. I was getting the pick scratches down for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the guitar my Dad bought me. I wasn't having any of this quiet shit. I wanted bangers. I wanted to shake my fists at the sky. I would soon turn my back on Nirvana for many years because it wasn't punk rock. It was "corporate mainstream poser garbage."

Look, I was wrong about a lot of things, okay?

It wasn't until college I discovered how wonderful this record was. And after many years of careful contemplation, I submit it is a nearly perfect album. It is a flawless listen from start to finish. Few records calm me in the way this one does. Maybe I was tamed by old age or maybe I stopped thinking of Nirvana as a one-dimensional rock jukebox, but this record might be my personal favorite in their discography. I stole back the CD from my Dad who promptly insisted it be returned, and so I repurchased it.

But the part of this record that hits me in the chest is "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." It absolutely destroyed me. I was a massively insecure boyfriend through all of high school, most of college, and a fair portion of the early 2000s. This song is the anthem of my dread. I don't hear it from the same place anymore. I'm more interested in the emotion Kurt puts in it. Dave Growl called it Kurt "boiling nails in this throat." They asked Nirvana to play another song after this, but Kurt said "you and I both know I can't top that."

I love this record because it is raw and riddled with mistakes, and feels infinitely vulnerable. They let down their shields of distortion and showed you they could make something beautiful. And it once again reiterated that my Dad is usually right about things.