By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
Combining the short-circuited style of what's best in early D.C. hardcore and the guitar aesthetic of indie rock, the El Paso five-piece creates an orchestrated collage of the two genres. Fueled by a racing-octane tempo, "Raschuache" opens the disc by meshing off-time signatures and 4/4. The sound is augmented by scrappy guitars and an occasional thunder boom provided by Tony on drums (each bandmember is identified by first name only). "Proxima Centauri [232K aiff]" pounds steadily until the chorus slips into a sonic seizure, then recovers briskly with a stable, graceful verse. Although At the Drive In occasionally veers out of control, sanitized guitar work and a polished discord always steer it back; there's a melodic cohesion here rarely found in an underground band. The result is like a tasty poison or a shape-shifting mass of pretty pollution.
The lyrics on Vaya can prove equally difficult to navigate. Metaphors linger like smoke sealed in a stopped truck, their meanings as indiscernible as the garbled audio of a dangling soundbox at an actual drive-in. "Taking rations from the ballot box, cursing like sweet tarts/Increase the dosage, count back from ten/And it was written in capital faunt," asserts vocalist/guitarist Cedric on " Heliotrope [232K aiff]." Who knows what it means, but at least it's not riddled with the righteousness or self-indulgence that plagued the D.C. scene and continues in so much of indie rock. Taken individually, pieces of this automatic writing style are intriguing and picturesque; as a whole, though, the stream of consciousness lacks much solid structure.
Vaya's genealogy may be easily traced, but its diversity and sophistication suggest that At the Drive In has overcome the deficits of its predecessors. The band has appropriated the energy and charisma of its roots while wisely leaving the baggage behind. -- Mike Engstrom
In 1994, Def Jam was in the enviable position of simultaneously releasing two of the most anticipated debut hip-hop albums that year: Redman's completely insane Whut? Thee Album and -- coming straight off of the Wu Tang Clan's seminal first LP -- Method Man's solo debut, Tical. The comparisons between the two MCs extended far beyond the similarity of their names: Both had an image of being dangerous, crotch-grabbing street thugs whose passion for smoking weed made the members of Cypress Hill look like recreational users. More important, their rhyming skills took rap phrasing and wordplay to creative new heights. Rumors of a joint project between the two, bolstered by their collaborative hit single "How High," from the 1995 Def Jam concert film The Show, had been rampant for years. But it wasn't until their show-stealing performance together on this year's brain-dead Hard Knock Life Tour that an official announcement was made. Blackout was destined to be the ultimate hardcore hip-hop record, the one that would snap every neck from the city of Compton to the slums of Shaolin. So it has to be asked: What the fuck happened?
The majority of this album comes in dead on arrival. The opening sixty seconds [198K aiff] pretty much sum up the listening experience to follow: In a weed-soaked voice, Redman asks, "Do you want to get high, man?" to which Meth growls back, "Does Pinocchio have wooden balls, man?" While neither MC has been noted for his incredible, ahem, wisdom, the feeling of been there, done that is overwhelming on this release. Marijuana, guns and testosterone-born bravado might still move massive quantities of records out in the suburbs, but damn if they aren't the lowest common denominator hip-hop has to offer in 1999. Take, for instance, the song " Cereal Killer [256K aiff]," which has both men visualizing themselves as murder maniacs, with stunningly inane lyrics like "Murder, murder, murder/Kill, kill, kill/Take nuts and screws out of Ferris wheels" and ending with the sound of a woman screaming as a machete hacks away. Forget the subject matter -- these rhymes just plain stink.
As is the case in all of their previous efforts, this thuggery dreck would be somewhat forgivable if the shit rocked, but this time the beats are incredibly dull. The finger could be pointed at producer Erick Sermon of E.P.M.D. fame, whose nine out of seventeen tracks lack any menace or funk and are completely indistinguishable from one another. The two tracks from Wu mastermind RZA feel like reject-drawer material as well -- a characteristic that's plagued all of the Wu product released this year. There are a handful of numbers, like the title track, that are fun and will grow on a listener after a while. But considering the talent inherent in all of the players involved, this is one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Let's hope that Meth puts down the pipe for a month or so before releasing his next solo joint in January. In the meantime, those interested in something real are advised to go pick up the new Mos Def record. Even after you smoke copious amounts of weed, this album will still suck. -- Kevin Crouse