I don’t know about you but I needed a good kick in the teeth.
I’ve written a lot of words about these guys lately and I’m not even close to done. At The Drive-In changed my life with Relationship of Command many, many years ago and I am entirely in their sonic debt. I’ve been anticipating something like in•ter a•li•a to come along for as long as I can seem to remember. The fact that it’s here doesn’t really feel real. in•ter a•li•a is upon me and I’m freaking the fuck out.
Many publications have already given in•ter a•li•a a half-hearted review. These lackluster hit-pieces seem to be exclusively written by self-inflated ex-fans who seem to be embarrassed by the fact that they’re reviewing a post-hardcore album in the year 2017. So-called ‘reviewers’ like that like to take cheap shots and preemptively stick their superstank noses up at albums like this. You know, the ones that transport them back to a time when they weren’t so fucking cool. To a time of perpetual anxiety. They’ve forgotten how to build a relationship with At The Drive-In because they refuse to speak its nervous, angry language. These writers are too afraid of being too moved by punk music.
I’m not. I’m all about that shit. Let’s get on with the panic attack. Let’s explore in•ter a•li•a.
The album kicks off with No Wolf Like The Present and I’m immediately back in the caustic, anxious universe of Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s hyper-articulate punk-gospel. The mad-spitting genius is immediate, as Bixler-Zavala wastes no time kicking us in the teeth with the high-wire, high-octane free-associative lyrics At The Drive-In were known for. Whether he’s yelling about walking ciphers kicking calendars or Potemkin mills, Bixler-Zavala delivers a powerful vocal track complete with the haunting refrain of “There’s no wolf like the present. They own your history and scrap it for parts.” This is easily the most philosophically viable and psychologically uncomfortable statement made in punk music in recent memory. It’s lyrics like that, man, they cut my fucking brain in half. Usually it’s Bixler-Zavala’s voice or Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s guitar acrobatics that melt my face off, here it’s this insane lyric. It all goes with my theory of postmodernism in post-dash-genres. Bixler-Zavala is saying that we own nothing, not even our past. He’s also saying there’s nothing we can do about it because the thief is the present itself. You are always a hostage to the things you’ve experienced. The wolf of the present is is a spiritual time terrorist. We are constantly being redefined conceptually and therefore emotionally totally. This wolf sells our better pieces in order to buy more parts to trade. Something like a heroin addiction, common in Bixler-Zavala’s lyrical portraits, could most certainly be a relatable chunk of stolen property, its consequences forever dangling over your head. It’s a psychological relationship of command. Yeah, all of that is expressed in only two lines of lyrics. in•ter a•li•a is one powerful magnum opus and it’s just getting started.
Continuum follows and it’s a fucking banger of a track. This is the logical extension of the now long-dead post-hardcore movement that At The Drive-In championed, pioneered, and abandoned 17 years ago. Continuum demonstrates what the next step in evolution would have been. This song is out of this world rockin’. Tilting At The Univendor casts a loving spotlight on Rodriguez-Lopez and his uncanny guitar abilities. I love the way Rodriguez-Lopez approaches guitar sonics. He faces punk sensitivity with hardcore sensibilities. He’s one of the most inventive players in the genre and his absolute cosmic mastery is on full display all throughout in•ter a•li•a.
Every single fucking track makes me fall in love with the electric guitar.
This LP is a soundscape of skill, hinging on six-string gymnastics. Rodriguez-Lopez gives us a wonderland of sonic guitar structure and he maintains this unearthly atmosphere for the entire album. He’s always reinventing sonic concepts he helped create. Throughout the course of in•ter a•li•a, Rodriguez-Lopez reconfigures post-hardcore guitar dynamics into something different, something new, and something ingenious. It’s an imaginative reconstruction of familiar sonic landscapes. All in all, between Bixler-Zavala shredding his vocal chords through panic attack after panic attack and Rodriguez-Lopez redefining post-hardcore guitar noise, I’m deeply inspired and have already become very affectionate towards in•ter a•li•a.
Far be it from in•ter a•li•a to miss a single beat, the album then catapults into one of the best parts of the album, Governed By Contagions as followed by a one-two punch-out of Pendulum in a Peasant Dress and Incurably Innocent. If you’re not on the floor by the end of these tracks, I don’t wanna know you. You have no heart. There’s a lyric off Governed By Contagions that, for reasons unknown to me, scares me to the bone. It’s a mixture of the delivery of the lines, the actual nightmares I associate with their meaning, and Bixler-Zavala sounding vulnerable for a moment, and ridiculously anxious, on the verge of a complete, actual nervous breakdown, if only for these few lines. He loses control and the lyrics make me feel very afraid.
He’s the man behind the dresser giving zodiac advice
He says there will come a day to delete everything
Brace yourself, my darling
Brace yourself for a flood
There’s a woman eating her newborn under a tractor’s frame
She says barren are the fields from the nephilim rain
Brace yourself, my darling
Brace yourself for a flood
There they are. Those words and the way they’re screamed breaks my heart and actually terrifies me. Music can move me so much. At The Drive-In have driven me to many emotional places but never like this. It’s the imagery, it’s the vocal track–it’s haunting in a way few punk songs are. It’s the color of the words. So many distressing colors are there. They are damaging and wild.
Incurably Innocent is an anthemic show-stopper about artistic emasculation. It was one of the first songs released off the record and it’s still just as impactful as it was the day it came out when I played it on repeat all day at the office. Incurably Innocent is a sophisticated hardcore-hymnal about a complicated creative meltdown. It’s yet another captivating/excellent track on an album full of them. On Call Broken Arrow, Bixler-Zavala lets loose. Rodiguez-Lopez and Co. unleash the vocal tiger upon us and his name is fucking Cedric. Until this point it’s not as if he’s been holding back physically, trust me–he’s been putting 100% into this goddamn LP, but he has certainly kept his Mars Volta vocal stylings locked up deep inside of his lungs. So when he goes all out during Call Broken Arrow, it’s truly something to behold. I’m always astonished by the way my man Cedric can belt out a song. Its uncharacteristic inclusion on an At The Drive-In record is a welcome one. I love hearing Cedric sing and Call Broken Arrow gives us one of the album’s catchier songs along with its most challenging vocal track. It’s what I like to call a ‘nice juxtaposition’.
Then we get tracks like Torrentially Cutshaw that open up with the most inventive guitar-work I have heard in a very long time. It’s breezy and immaculate. It’s ineffable and indescribably enchanting. This is a Rodriguz-Lopez produced album and his genius-level guitar ability is only challenged by his prowess behind the booth. in•ter a•li•a is a wonderfully produced LP that glows like blue flame.
Ghost-Tape No. 9 provides the first real breather of the album and it’s the second-to-last track on it. You heard me right. in•ter a•li•a doesn’t break pace until the 10th cut. That’s crazy. It’s an all-out blitz for thirty minutes. At The Drive-In have shown no signs of age and their energy is as high as its ever been. When they do finally slow the tempo down, it’s deliberate and perfectly sequenced. It also does not mean your safe. You’re never safe on this record. Anxiety can take several forms. It will always hunt you down. Modern anxiety never disappears. It merely haunts in wait.
Closer Hostage Stamps was also among the earliest tracks that were released off the album. I kind of wish they saved this for the full, official unveiling. It’s such a muscular, aggressive punk song that I wish I hadn’t heard it until the album came out. It’s great though, it’s got Cedric using that vocal colossus super power he keeps stored away on At The Drive-In records until it’s absolutely necessary to wreak havoc with it. On Hostage Stamps, it’s not only necessary for Cedric to freak the fuck out, it’s an essential part of the sonic fabric of this manic, melodic, and athletic closer.
in•ter a•li•a is a wonderful LP. Nothing could ever be as phenomenal as Relationship of Command was all those years ago but how could you expect something to actually surpass a masterwork like that? That’s not even what At The Drive-In were attempting here. It’s hard enough just to follow-up an album as perfect at Relationship, let alone eclipse it. in•ter a•li•a wasn’t about all that. I definitely would not even think of comparing this new record to the mythic landmarks of the band’s history. Albums like Relationship of Command and In/Casino/Out are beyond perfect and are absolutely monumental. They are tried and true institutions of sound. None of this makes in•ter a•li•a any less powerful or fantastic than it is though. While Jim Ward is sorely missed and noticeably absent, I refuse to side with the detractors on any level because in•ter a•li•a is an album done right. It’s everything I wanted from an At The Drive-In LP. What we all thought was an impossibility is now a chaotic and beautiful reality. I loved in•ter a•li•a. I loved every part of it.
Every. Part of it.