Whether you’re still mourning the loss of At the Drive-In — the uncompromising wrecking crew that splintered off into Sparta and the Mars Volta — or simply enjoy blasting the skate park anthems of bands like Breathe Carolina, Plain White T’s and Every Avenue, we’ve got you covered with 16 key titles from the pit-pleasing back catalog of Fearless Records, starting with a best-of collection that hammers home the don’t-mess-with-Texas status of ATDI…
At the Drive-In was: Tony, Jim, Paul, Cedric, and Omar. As accomplished as they became after ATDI's 2001 split, This Station Is Non-Operational really makes you miss the focused intensity of the band's salad days. This hits and rarities retrospective is chronological, moving from "Fahrenheit" and "Picket Fence Cartel" off 1997's Gran Orgo through to selections from their 2000 swan song Relationship of Command. Remixes, covers, 7" singles, and a BBC session follow; the guitar tone in their 1998 version of "This Night Has Opened My Eyes" matches the Smiths' perfectly. There's a great dynamic between "Chanbara" and "Lopsided," both from In Casino Out. "Chanbara" is taut, and full of spirited lyrics and periodic explosions; it's provides the definition of 1990's post-hardcore. But while "Lopsided" also has that tension, it's much closer to the austerity and melody of indie rock. Because of where ATDI went after their breakup -- in particular Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez with the elemental, furiously improvisational the Mars Volta -- it's easy to forget about At the Drive-In's capacity for convention. Their spectacular live show was a big part of their success. But as This Station Is Non-Operational continually points out, At the Drive-In wrote incredible songs, too. Vaya's "198d" is an honest-to-God ballad, and "Rascuache" (from the same EP) appears here in remix form, a dubby, electronics-addled version dating from a 1999 7" on Buddyhead/Grand Royal. "One Armed Scissor" was At the Drive-In's most well-known song; it's responsible for this anthology's title, and is no less incendiary here. Other This Station Is Non-Operational standouts: "Autorelocator"'s hissing, faraway synths, and the appropriately psych rock cover of Pink Floyd's "Take Up They Stethoscope and Walk" that closes the set.
Less punk than infectious power pop, Chicago's Plain White T's put a modern, airwave-affable stamp on that beloved strain of the rock & roll virus with All That We Needed. The jumpy title track launches the set with a nod to Tom Petty's "American Girl," but the hooks don't stop there. The band draws on Jimmy Eat World for the hit contender "Take Me Away," while tunes like the lovelorn "My Only One" and the punchy "Revenge" rock harder and feel more original. If the cowbell-heavy "What More Do You Want?" is as cheesy as it is alluring, the guilty pleasures continue with the "young horny guy on tour" missive "Sing My Best," which is just one of several songs that recall great lost bands like the Producers, the Ravyns, and the Romantics. The obligatory acoustic parting shot is also solid, evoking the spirit of Big Star's classic "Thirteen."
Every Avenue was every inch the embodiment of emo pop in late 2009. From their look (asymmetrical haircuts and soulful stares) to their sound (spotless production, clean guitars, and a bit of Auto-Tune) they were located dead center in the mainstream of the style. Their second album, Picture Perfect, is a tuneful, mostly melancholy affair that delves into broken relationships, broken hearts, and the girls who caused them, and for a change of pace, romantic struggles. It could have made for a disheartening slog through their heartbreak journals, but to their credit, Every Avenue, and especially singer David Ryan Strauchman, show a real sensitivity to the material, and the mix of ballads and uptempo tracks keeps the album from getting bogged down in sadness. Overall, there isnt any new ground being broken here, but the band retraces the steps of others with enough style and passion to make the album a satisfying listen.