In the year of our Lord, 2000, my junior year of high school, I saw The Who perform in Dallas, TX. It had been 27 years since their last album of any relevance. I went to the concert with my Dad. Seeing The Who with my Dad was special because they had been an important band in his life when he was in high school. It was an incredible memory that I’ll cherish forever; seeing a band from decades earlier because it meant something to my Dad.
At The Drive-In just released a new album, in*ter a*li*a, in 2017. For those keeping score, that’s 17 years since their last album, Relationship Of Command, in 2000. In the year 2000, I was catching oldies concerts with Dad, while the most vital new band from my state was releasing their most recognizable album. Now, 17 years later, they’re back on the scene and just released an album that spits in the face of the idea of being a nostalgia act or merely a marketing ploy to see a reunion tour with your kids. Take a high school kid to an At The Drive-In concert and see if they come away feeling nostalgic or energized to take on the world.
in*ter a*li*a is everything you could possibly hope for out of the band in either 2000 or 2017. The album kicks off with No Wolf, that is instantly familiar as ATDI. Is it the best song on the album? No, but like The Force Awakens, it introduces the ATDI sound to a new generation of listeners. And to old fans, worried about what two convoluted decades would do to their too-soon dead idols, No Wolf reassures them that ATDI isn’t messing around or wasting their time. The second song, Continuum, probably best exemplifies the band after years of new experiences. You can hear the Mars Volta creeping in, you can hear the modern rock tinges. The best way I could parallel the sound would be to suggest you to listen to Rush’s “Moving Pictures,” and then listen to “Vapor Trails,” and “Clockwork Angels.” Smart, good, bands benefits from the passing of time and pick up the new flavors and incorporate them into a sound you already know and love.
Tilting At The Univendor is practically a late 90’s rock radio-anthem. Think Splendor/Our Lady Peace filtered through the warped mind of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. Or maybe, the mind of Rodriguez-Lopez filtered through the newfound pop-sensibilities of Zavalaz, Cedric’s unreleased, amazing, project(look online). It is on this third track that I develop my thesis and wrap my head around the new At The Drive-In album. At The Drive-In traded their unbridled youthful fury for a non-stop assault of precise surgical incisions. This album doesn’t pound over the head, rather it cuts to the core. Over the last almost two decades, Rodriguez-Lopez allowed his creativity to run wild in The Mars Volta and the calendar’s worth of solo albums. After following/indulging these intense curiosities, Rodriguez-Lopez has the freedom to write whatever simply fit the song best. Sometimes that means unleashing the inner-Zappa and sometimes that means reigning it in and simply letting the song take centerstage.
Honestly, in*ter a*li*a could’ve been almost anything and I would’ve been inclined to like it just because of how much I love At The Drive-In. Objectively, however, this is a surprisingly good album. Side 1 is a perfect side of vinyl and far outshines Side 2, but, the ATDI catalog would not be complete without songs like Torrentially Cutshaw and Hostage Stamps.
Considering the current state of the music industry and the reliance on gimmicks like 20th anniversary performances of classic albums, a pump of blood into the system is incredibly refreshing. At The Drive-In could be touring, resting on their laurels, and selling tickets to fifteen year olds and their dads trying to recapture a little of the glory of, but, instead, they are giving birth to lasting music that will stand the same test of time they have already endured. Long live At The Drive-In and all the projects that existed to bring them back.
ps. if that Zavalaz album turned up on a professional recording, I wouldn’t hate it
pps. if The Mars Volta got back together, I wouldn’t mind getting to see them in concert
ppps. will there ever be a vinyl box set release of all Omar Rodriguez-Lopez solo albums and how much would something like that cost?