At The Drive In – In • ter a • li • a


Album

In • ter a • li • a

Label

Rise Records/Cooking Vinyl Australia

Year

2017

Genre

For Fans Of

Relationship Of Command, At The Drive In

Summary

The comeback we all needed & wanted.

Rating

89 / 100

Some people believe that reviews of albums, movies, games and any number of other topics, should only touch upon the actual subject and that no other piece of art – whether from the artist in question or the work of another – should be included in said review. To those people who I would personally label as dullards, I say, “These days, nothing exists in a vacuum, but best of luck in your poor cognitive endeavour.”

I mention this because one cannot discuss ‘In • ter a • li • a‘, the long-awaited fourth album from At The Drive In and their first album in 17 years (12 if we’re counting ‘This Station Is Non-Operational‘), without comparing and discussing this new record to its legendary predecessor; the seminal ‘Relationship Of Command‘.

Like many others, 2000’s ‘Relationship Of Command‘ is an all-time favourite record of yours truly. It’s a record that I love dearly; one whose songs I know every single lyric to; one that I know structurally front to back and side to side; and one that I’ve listened to countless times since my ears first discovered it in 2011. Yet upon the announcement of this new album’s existence, and even just mere seconds before sitting down to fully hear and ingest ‘In • ter a • li • a‘, I was quite sceptical about it.

For how could this record live up to the sheer legacy that was endowed by eager critics, loyal fans, now famous/infamous live and T.V. performances, reunion tours, hall of fame mentions and glowing retrospective reviews of ‘Relationship Of Command‘? How could this new release defy expectations from listeners the world over? And how could it ever surpass my own lofty expectations set by years of internal hype?

Well, in beating around the bush no longer, no – ‘In • ter a • li • a‘, which is Latin for “among other things” (hinting at its thematic variation) – just isn’t as good as it’s predecessor. Plain and simple. Though, to be fair, very, very few things are as good as that album in this stranger-than-fiction world of ours. But while ‘Relationship Of Command‘ still remains as the real peak of At The Drive In’s work as a collective – *insert “calm down, ‘In/Casino/Out‘ is still good” comment here* – the chaotic rock approach of ‘In • ter a • li • a‘ comes damned close. Because whether or not you view this release by it’s lonesome self or in succession to that now classic record, this 11-track record is still an immensely consistent and solid listen!

AtTheDriveIn2017

At The Drive In, post-hyphen era.

In the years following At The Drive In’s breakup, we saw various projects spring from the member’s creative minds. There’s the more recent alternative/rock sounds of Antemasque and the textured, experimental nature of – let’s face it – the far more musically complex The Mars Volta; both courtesy of guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López and frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala. We also had Sparta from now ex-guitarist Jim Ward and drummer Tony Hajjar. (Filling Ward’s shoes here is actually Sparta’s other guitarist, Keeley Davis. Their Christmas party may be quite awkward this year, me thinks). Then, further away from the six degrees of ATDI is Hajjar’s other work in alt-rock supergroup, Gone Is Gone. However, fret not, ye purists! For this album is in sound, tone, aesthetic and name, pure, unadulterated At The Drive In; acting as if they never even left us.

As gathered from the record’s first two singles – the banger of ‘Governed By Contagions‘ and the powerful yet disconcerting ‘Incurably Innocent‘ – this really is At The Drive In just for the year of our lord 2017. The aggressive, energetic opening duo of ‘No Wolf Like The Present’ and ‘Continuum’ only reinforce this fact. And that’s exactly why I adore this record; it’s At The Drive In making the record they more than likely would have made directly following ‘Relationship…’. It just took a long fucking time to get here, is all!

Now, one of the most captivating elements of their previous effort was the rabid shouts, accent-bending inflections, and brisk vocal phrasing of Bixler-Zavala. Once again, the eccentric vocalist leads the band’s sonic charge with his commanding vocals delivering vivid, surreal lyrics that summon up images and tales of political, moral and societal dissension and his disgust for such modern ills. It’s going to be damned good fun to muse over Bixler-Zavala’s lyrics and work just what the actual fuck he’s on about too.

Another returning aspect that received high praise in the past is the engaging guitar work and solid interplay between Rodriguez and Ward. While Ward’s out of the band now, the angular guitar riffs, dissonant licks, and phase-y guitar squeals from solo album addict Rodriguez and Davis here upholds their strong guitar output. Plus, the busy but fitting and tight drumming from Hajjar, coupled with the truly driving sense of these song’s pacing and expert instrumentation makes this the At The Drive In that many love and remember. The very kind that many hoped would one day rise again.

Actual musical performances and songwriting aside, the production and mix here are obviously much cleaner than what came before in the El Paso outfits discography. Which makes the album’s highlights that much more potent; standouts like the personalised and emotional ‘Tilting At The Univendor’, the unnerving yet cryptic nature of ‘Call Broken Arrow’, the slower, darker, brooding late game entry ‘Ghost Tape No. 9’, or the album’s closing bleak, dystopian-themed rager, ‘Hostage Stamps’.

To be blunt, there is not a bad song to be found here. Yet… there also isn’t a song that can match the dire, other-worldly urgency of ‘Cosmonaut‘; no song here is as haunting or as starkly contrasting as ‘Invalid Litter Dept.‘ and there’s nothing on ‘in • ter a • li • a‘ that could dethrone ‘One Armed Scissor‘ as their most impactful, definitive composition to date. Yet definitely not for a lack of effort or want of trying, as At The Drive In’s comeback record continues but also maintains their legacy as one of the most significant bands of our time.

Conclusion

A lot has happened to At The Drive in since 2000. It’s now been 17 years on from their widely lauded third record, they’ve rejected their ‘post-hardcore’ genre tag, they’ve removed the hyphen from their moniker (my autocorrect hated this review), and there’s no Jim Ward in sight. Yet, even so, we now have what many thought would never, ever happen; a new At The Drive In album in this decade.

And guess what? ‘In • ter a • li • a’ is fuckin’ great!

This album is everything – everything – that I personally wanted from a new At The Drive In record post-reunion, and I will be forever thankful for that. The band’s September headline tour truly cannot come soon enough.

Tracklisting

1. No Wolf Like The Present

2. Continuum

3. Tilting At The Univendor

4. Governed By Contagions

5. Pendulum In A Peasant Dress

6. Incurably Innocent

7. Call Broken Arrow

8. Holtzclaw

9. Torrentially Cutshaw

10. Ghost-Tape No. 9

11. Hostage Stamps

‘In • ter a • li • a’ is out now via Rise Records & Cooking Vinyl Australia. Purchase it here.

I thought about saying something really cringy like “This station is now operational” as the summary or the meta description for this review but then thought much higher of myself. Also, At The Drive In are touring Australia nationally this September, so get keen, you sheep! Find more info for that tour here

7 Responses to “At The Drive In – In • ter a • li • a”

  1. Owen Morawitz Owen Morawitz

    While it might grow on me eventually, overall this record feels underwhelming. Ward’s absence is palpable, and although Davis is a great musician, the band chemistry just seems… flat. It’s like a paint-by-numbers album, with B-side instrumentals and ‘insert overtly obtuse lyrics here’ vocals. It feels safe and sanitised. At The Drive In, minus the soul.

  2. Alex Sievers Alex Sievers

    As much as I really enjoy this album, yes, ATDI will never re-capture the same “soul” of their past; not here and I doubt on future records too. Because they’ve grown up and they’ve found themselves in their many other bands, which save for some pretty hectic TMV songs, weren’t as aggressive as their past work. But while it may lack aggression, I could not disagree more that it lacks energy nor the band’s usual approach and hooks. I think to expect anything else from the band bar their own formula is nothing more than wishful thinking. I think that expectation is the main victim of the hype, though.

    But man, this is a great comeback record that does exactly what it needed to – reassert ATDI today with what made them great to begin with and understandably existing separately from their other bands too. Again, it’s no ROC but we ALL know that this wouldn’t best that release. In saying that, though, this album has some of my favourite ATDI songs to date – Call Broken Arrow, Tilting at the Univendor, Governed By Contagions.

    Also, no shit the lyrics are obtuse and nonsensical. I don’t know why anyone would expect anything else from old mate Cedric at this point, haha.

    • Owen Morawitz Owen Morawitz

      That’s fair Alex. And I think you’re definitely right about expectation being a victim of the hype, but with so many reunion tours, reunion albums and old bands clinging on to dear life, that type of expectation is almost becoming a default mode now.

      I guess with the energy thing, I was trying to articulate that this record doesn’t feel like what ATDI in 2017 would/should produce, but more like a holdover from what they ‘sounded like’ in the early 2000’s, and then a half-baked recreation of that sound. I think this is why TMV and Sparta worked so well. ATDI fractured, and we got two different groups from the same bunch of talented musicians, with completely different sounds. But, my point being, that the same level of artistic expression and energy was present in both groups. Whereas on this record, I don’t feel that same connection with the music. It feels watered-down and safe. And, lyrically, of course Cedric is going to do wild shit, as he always has.

      I love ROC, but I also didn’t expect ATDI to recreate that album. Ultimately, they could release whatever they wanted, and I’d probably be stoked, as long as they approached it with the same balls-out aggression and delivery of their past records. By that mark, this record doesn’t really hold up to me. Then again, maybe I’m just fussy and entitled. Who knows haha.

      • Alex Sievers Alex Sievers

        Yeah, that’s a good point about the frequency of old bands staying in the spotlight, or trying to at least. But when ATDI broke up, they didn’t leave the music world – Jim and Tony formed Sparta, Tony did video game soundtracks and was in Gone Is Gone, Omar releases solo albums at an inhuman rate, while he and Cedric went on to TMV and Antemasque. So when ATDI get back together and tour and release new music, I was fine with whatever would come next, as most of its members kept being creative in other ways; they still did music. They didn’t all just get suit jobs for the past 17 years and then go “Oh, that’s right, I was in a really popular band!”.

        If I had it my way, I would want this album to be more aggressive, but 17 years is a long damn time and most – not all, but most – of the live footage I’ve seen of them now isn’t quite as wild as what they used to be like. So I think their age has a lot to do with this new album, and why it does feel safe at times. But it’s a safety I’ll fucking take!

  3. Sunbather

    Needs a bit of Jim Ward on this one me thinks.
    I’m also thinking Thursday will possibly be the only band to be able to pull off a comeback album.

    • Alex Sievers Alex Sievers

      While I love this record, it would be better with old mate Ward, no doubt.

      Oh god, I can’t wait for that Thursday album honestly. Still cut that a No Devotion tour DIDN’T happen out here.

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