Let me start this review off by making the point I want to make, and then elaborating later: If you are any kind of an At The Drive-In fan and you do not own this fantastic album, go find it. Now. Get offline, throw away your empty can of Diet Coke and go to the nearest record store. It's can be hard to find, but is more than worth the effort. Hell, if you're any kind of a rock n' roll fan you owe it to yourselves to hear some ATDI. You get to work, too.
If you didn't already do what I told you, I guess you probably want to know WHY you should go buy "El Gran Orgo". Fine, I'll tell you.
For those of you who don't know, At The Drive-In were an exciting, fresh new rock band putting out great albums for a few years. They got on a major label and their single "One-Armed Scissor" starting getting airplay. So naturally they went on hiatus for about half a year then broke up.
To describe their sound is difficult. I could refer to them as hardcore, indy, punk, or even the dreaded 'emo'. Lead singer Cedric Bixler just called them a rock 'n roll band, and I tend to agree. 'El Gran Orgo' is just that. A six song EP that gives you seventeen minutes of great music.
This album should appeal to any ATDI fan. Even if you've only heard "Relationship of Command" and stumbled onto this you'd enjoy it. One of the most unique things about "El Gran Orgo" is it's fairly straightforward lyrics, by At The Drive-In's standards, anyway. ("Oh dear. 'Speechless' is almost normal," said a fellow ATDI fan during our discussion of this subject.)
The band's later releases feature very abstract, although still very personal and emotional, lyrics. For comparison, lyrics like "For our amusement/We bring stares to the defendants/Mechanical panaceas/Absolved by history/Phonetic paralysis/Inflicted through morality/The seed that it nurtured/Was a wilted bouquet" from "Rolodex Proganda" demonstrate the band at the peak of their ability to make you run circles in your mind trying to figure out what the hell they're trying to say.
I have this theory about At The Drive-In in which the band made a bizarre pact to make their lyrics more abstract with every release. "Give It A Name" might just be the closet the band came to doing a love song, and hearing it certainly was a surprise for someone who started with "Relationship of Command."
But as I said, the more straightforward nature of EGO is the charm of the album. It starts with the aforementioned "Give It A Name", an upbeat two and a half minute, dare I say pop song that deals, quite simply, with the end of a relationship. The song is delivered with the typical ATDI energy, giving it an almost triumphant feel at times as Cedric sings lines like "So take those diamond bland shaped tears/And maybe I'll see you in twenty years/And I will always wear your ring/You know the one that turned my finger green".
With that, the momentum of the album never lets up, aside from a quiet fifty-second breather in the middle.
The best example of the album's excellence is its closer and best track, "Speechless". The song is one of ATDI's finest moments, combining all their best qualities: an energetic, passionate performance, a dynamic instrumental performance, and some of Cedric's most heartfelt vocals. It deals with the difficult subject of rape, but doesn't belittle the issue. Lyrics like "Hiding bruises he brings you roses/Says "I'm sorry" now it's okay/No hard feelings, no deep meanings/You were once special/But just for a day" evoke the victim's feelings of betrayal and shame.
The song goes to a whole new level when the guitars drop out during the bridge and allow the bass and drums to play under the lines "All those lonely nights/You stayed up and cried/Sick to your stomach with butterflies/He says "come here and hold me close/You never really seem to smile when I touch you", helping bring the song toward it's emotional peak. The repetition of the line "She's reaching for something right" and the final scream that end the song beautifully wrap up the song and the album.
At The Drive-In's break-up was a big loss to rock, with the exposure they were starting to get they could have helped bring more exciting new rock music into the picture. As it stands, they left behind several great albums, and this is one of them. Do yourself a favor and look into this one.