So you're 15, maybe 14, feeling your way blindly through the post-hardcore of today, groping in the darkness for some kind of foundation. You're searching desperately for a solid base from where your appreciation of a scene kickstarted by the overground explosion of At The Drive-In can grow and ultimately blossom; for some root or aging off-cut from what's the distant past to you but Year Zero for the now completely commercially viable sound purveyed by too many bands to list here. Well, how's this? An anthology, of sorts, approved by the band members themselves. Good, eh? Hmm...
Well yes, obviously, but This Station Is Non-Operational must be listened to with an absolutely open mind. Yes, those earliest efforts from El Gran Orgo are scratchy, gutterside punk at best and, well, utterly underwhelming in absolute fairness. But that's not what ATD-I will be remembered for - it's the tracks from In/Casino/Out and the straw that ultimately broke their collective back, Relationship Of Command, that today's fashioncore 'punks' have plumbed almost endlessly for inspiration. And you know what? They still sound amazingly fresh and vital.
'Lopsided' showcases the slow-fuck-off-fast dynamics that the band would develop to a supreme level come their commercial peak, but it's old live favourite 'Napoleon Solo' that somewhat predictably tugs at the nostalgic heartstrings. I can claim I was there, head tipped backwards, facing the venue ceiling, singing my scrawny lungs out; the skin-prickling feeling such a song brings back is unlikely to be bettered by many future live experiences. Of course, Cedric Bixler's calls of "This is forever" were entirely wrong in a literal band sense, but the echoes from such a triumphant masterstroke, a melding of perfect melody and malevolent punk, will be heard for many tens of years to come. From here on in the band's career trajectory was only ever facing skywards; whether or not they would handle what success threw at them was quite another matter.
And this is where you come in, youngster scouring faded copies of Kerrang! for information on a band not-so-long dead but already legendary: they couldn't cope with the pressure of crossover acclaim and the massive weight of follow-up expectation in the wake of the seminal Relationship Of Command. That, or they had simply peaked and felt that there was nowhere else to go but down, and what's the point in that? (Or they hated each other, of course.) If you've read this far and don't own this modern-day classic of a rock/punk/whatever record, turn off your computer and fucking BUY IT.
Here we're treated to three very different cuts from ...Command: 'Enfilade' (a steadily unwinding epic with Cedric spazzing out over some kidnapping backstory), 'Non-Zero Possibility' (perhaps the most intensely complex yet sombre song the quintet ever penned, totally pointing the way to Bixler and Omar Rodriguez's Mars Volta), and the must-have 'One-Armed Scissor'. I still dance to this song in clubs, something I don't do to 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' or even 'Touch Me I'm Sick'. If that doesn't tell you something of its quality then, um... you've clearly never seen me dance. Ah fuck it - you've heard it anyway, right? Fucking quality, and that's it. End of. Over and out.
Odds and sods are mostly well picked - a cover of The Smiths' 'This Night Has Opened My Eyes' (the one previously unheard track on a collection of 18) nestles fairly comfortably besides a take on Pink Floyd's 'Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk' (a one-time b-side), and a smattering of slightly harder-to-find songs makes this collection an attractive purchase for an existing fan holding those aforementioned classic albums so dear. To the newcomer, though, this record just about transcends essential; really, if you like contemporary punk rock, even the MTV-sanitised version, then you've no excuse whatsoever for not owning this.
So, kid, we conclude: these tracks comprise the roots of every band of today blessed with guitars as sharp as their over-styled haircuts and with crust-cracking breakdowns worthy of meteorite impacts. Follow them deeper into the earth via those surface splinters and there are even more incendiary treats to be had, but those bands are for reassessment another time. Put simply: if you don't own an At The Drive-In record but consider Funeral For A Friend and their numerous clones to be cutting edge, then you, kid, are a blithering idiot.
10Mike Diver's Score