Friday 3 November 2017


GenresPunk / Rock / Alternative / Avant Garde / Hardcore / Emo
Related artistsThe Mars Volta, SpartaEngine DownCrime In Choir, The Hades KickBruce Eisenbeil`s Crosscurrent Trio, Eye Contact, Stabbing Eastwood, Stars Like Fleas, Tall Firs, Sleepcar, Antemasque, De FactoEl Grupo Nuevo De Omar Rodriguez Lopez, The Fall On Deaf EarsDenali, Glös, Heks Orkest, HerschelBosnian Rainbows, Crystal Fairy, Kimono Kult, Omar Rodriguez Lopez Group, Omar Rodriguez Lopez Quartet, Gone and Gone, Dios Kilos and Inside Out.
CountryEl Paso, Texas U.S.A.
Years Active1993-2001, 2011-2012, 2015-present
Song: "Extracurricular"
Album: "Sunshine split"
Year: 2000
For fans ofFor The Mathematics, Christiansen, The Sound Of Animals Fighting, Face Tomorrow, Sparta, Hella, Fugazi, Coheed And Cambria, Cantilever, Encrypt Manuscript, I Am Alaska, Lucertulus, Gran Casino, Life In Vacuum, Frodus, Hot Cross, Campbell Trio, Despistado, Atsuko Chiba, Hercules Hercules, Dance Disaster Movement, Trapdoor Fucking Exit, Drive Like Jehu, (early) Elliot, Rage Against The Machine, Glassjaw, These Arms Are Snakes and The Mars Volta.
Label(s): Too many to mention 
This post's artist is from the October 2017 Mix. This is track #1.
You can download: the October 2017 Mix#10 right here or get the new November 2017 Mix#11 here.

Before you even start reading the actual post below, I highly recommend checking out the following bands whose sound is definitely rooted in AT THE DRIVE IN love. They are pretty obscure and well worth your time, so please check a few out that you've never heard! The best of the bunch are For The MathematicsChristiansenFace Tomorrow and Encrypt Manuscript. Further exploration should include Lucertulus, I Am Alaska, Campbell Trio and Atsuko Chiba. Oops, let's get down to business.

2017 was a weird year for my relationship with AT THE DRIVE IN. This traces back to my the origin of my only band tattoo, the 'Relationship of Command' Trojan horse that I had permanently engraved on the back of my right calf in...uhhhhhhhh, 2004? After the band's reformation in the mid-2010s, I was extremely wary. When I spoke of my AT THE DRIVE IN tattoo, and part of my reasoning when getting the thing done, was that the band was finito. It was closure. Or, obviously, so I thought. The response from showgoers seemed pretty negative and news of Omar's motives were tied exclusively to money. I don't know the truth of it all, but when I heard the single from their forthcoming LP in late 2016 I was definitely put off. "Governed By Contagions" is not the best AT THE DRIVE IN song and definitely triggers my inclination that, one, Jim Ward was integral (he is no longer in the band) and two, the songwriting and output seems forced. I eventually grabbed the album as I knew I needed it for this review, which has been a long time coming. And that is about the time I started to get confused. Why? Well, perhaps we should start at the beginning.

In 2000 my high school friend slipped me a copy of 'Relationship of Command' and said he thought I'd dig it, being a "punker". I thought it was okay, but eventually revisited the album in the next year or two and became obsessed with said full length. Right around this time the band dissolved and quickly cauterized the severed entity, which lived on through two new bands, Sparta (3/5's of ATDI) and The Mars Volta (2/5's of ATDI). I followed the path of both bands with extreme interest until around 2007 or so when I lost interest in both offspring ventures. During this time I had gone through and collected a lot of earlier AT THE DRIVE IN material, including the 'Sunshine split' cd, 'One Armed Scissor' single cd and 'Relationship of Command' import with the bonus banger "Catacombs", not to mention the earlier works of 'Vaya' and 'In/Casino/Out', in particular. I didn't really like the early work and to this day find the vocals too off-key and the instrumentals too loose. I don't think it's bad, I just don't seem to love their sound until 1998 or so. Let's take yet another goddamned step back and begin with their discography, most of which I was introduced to via their 'This Station is Non-Operational' compilation cd of early and hard-to-find material.

In 1994 (or was it actually 1993? I dunno) they released their very well-known debut 7" called 'Hell Paso'. It's a weird mix of post-punk, punk, angular rock, emo and even a bit of pop-rock ("Red Planet" for sure). Straight up, I don't really like this EP. It sounds like AFI meets REM or something, aka the meeting of the abbreviations.

In 1995 they released another 7", this one titled '¡Alfaro Vive, Carajo!'. This one sheds much of the slower songwriting and sounds more like the ATDI of the late 1990s while still retaining a fair amount of the emo and aggressive rock tendencies. Yet again, I don't listen to this, as it just seems very unpolished (well, they were young) and weak (uhm, when compared to their later material, at least).

The following year AT THE DRIVE IN released their debut full length with 'Acrobatic Tenement'. It is vintage, early ATDI that marks the tail-end of their emo-rock early days. I don't listen to this, either. Surprised? Have you not been reading? It's better than the preceding EPs but no song comes close to anything released hereafter, in this reviewer's opinion, at least. I'd probably posit "Ebroglio" as being my personal pick.

In 1997 'El Gran Orgo' sparked the transition to the final AT THE DRIVE IN sound, as Omar changed from bass to guitar and the band acquired their final drummer (Paul) and bassist (Tony). I still find the vocals a tad wonky and the instrumentals relatively straightforward, but the sound is undeniably ATDI. Hey, guess what? I don't listen to this, either.

Dave, do you even like AT THE DRIVE IN? Why, yes! I do! It is the 1998 LP 'In/Casino/Out' that starts doing it for me. It doesn't just do it, it does it. Y'know, cuz otherwise that would be improper grammar. Jokes aside, the album seems to revolve around a heist and has some phenomenal songs, my favourite being "Napoleon Solo". It begins with excellent, spacey guitars that eventually meet up with the vocals, placed awkwardly but with such a unique sound and confidence that it all plays out beautifully. At 1:21 the song crashes into the chorus and then sporadically goes in and out of grooves and explosions. The lyrics on this song are fantastic, and again the placement is fucking killer, with prime examples being "Makes no difference, your alphabet is missing letters." and "A hint of suspense when that telephone rings / This is forever." Other standout songs include "Alpha Centauri", "Chanbara", "Hulahoop Wounds", "For Now, We Toast" and "Lopsided". They really seemed to work out all of the kinks by this point, and although the vocals warble a bit, it's a really good release that is an excellent starting point for getting into AT THE DRIVE IN, says moi.

1999's 'Vaya' is considered a cult hit and probably the most voted "favourite" of the ATDI releases. Although I don't necessarily agree, I can see why. Therefore it is yet another evolution of the band that sits extremely well with me. The first four songs of the record are ripe with energy and sass, while the last three are chill, experimental but just as unreal. "Rascuache" opens the album and is a rollicking good time with a blatant opening based much more in atmospheric synths and classic rock, while simultaneously driving home the band's new and freshly honed sound. The first chorus punches in around 1:05 and uses the synths perfectly, layering them as the perfect compliment to the music that takes on a more groove oriented approach. "Proxima Centauri" kicks things off next in spectacular fashion, building up for nearly 45 seconds before letting loose and hitting top gear for the first time on the EP. "Ursa Minor" is next, with it's weird verses and classic chorus, it's a good song but one of the weaker tracks. "Heliotrope" is next and it is amazing. By far the most driving and intense song, it's a good precursor to the penultimate "Sleepwalk Capsules" from the band's subsequent release. The swirling guitars lead the way as the rest of the instrumentals slip in and out of a drug-induced haze when it's not hurtling through space. "Metronome Arthritis" follows and is the first really slow, synth-led jam. It takes hold right away with it's trudging, computer movements arranged as music and by golly that bass is hypnotic. The trade off of shouted and whispered vocals give the song a nice balance, which help transition it into the very jammy close post-2:30 as Cedric wails, "What if forensics finds the answers? What if they stole my fingerprints? Where did I leave my book of matches? We'll find you." "300 MHz" is a weird and experimental robot jam with a backwards vocal track that shows how interested Cedric and Omar were in exploring other sides of rock, and it comes off pretty damn well. Closer "198d" begins like a synth heartbeat before it is accompanied by extremely delicate and serene instrumentals. Even the vocals are crooned, whispered and sung beautifully, something not done much since the early days. Great closer. Great EP.

2000 was an insane year, with a ridiculous amount of splits coming out as well as their crowning achievement, and dare I say masterpiece, 'Relationship of Command'. They also released a ton of splits and whatnot, but let's quickly go through the album first. It opens with the primal "Arcarsenal" that explodes out of the gates and is easily my pick for one of the best opening tracks on any album anywhere. Once that bass riff hits around 40 seconds, you're fucking done. "Pattern Against User" takes a more melodic approach, including a very catchy chorus as well as awkward, angular and awesome lead guitar progressions. The hit single "One Armed Scissor" was just that for one simple reason, it's a sick tune. I jammed the fuck out of this in early university (2002, we'll say) and have watched the music video (linked here) many a time. The song is a riot. The bombastic (yes, bomb-fucking-bastic) bass riffs keep the song afloat during a succession of wild turns and undefinable genre hopping. The tradeoff vocals between Cedric and Jim during the chorus will forever be etched into many brains, "Send transmission from the one armed scissor. / Cut away! Cut away!" Maybe it's uncommon, but I have to say that "Sleepwalk Capsules" is quite possibly the best song that AT THE DRIVE IN ever recorded. Seriously, those guitars pierce like needles, the vocals cut like a pirated revolt broadcast and the stop/start of the bass and drums make the song danceable as fuck, as when 2:12 hits you'll never find me with two feet on the ground. The other single with accompanying music video (linked here) from the album was "Invalid Litter Dept.", a very different song for the band that focuses lyrically on women being abducted, raped and killed while returning home by buses in the dark of night after working in massive factories near the U.S./Mexican border. It's also probably the most radio friendly as well as epic song, and the most akin to The Mars Volta material. And that breakdown at 4:50? Wowza. "Mannequin Republic" is a decent track with more bass at the forefront, but "Enfilade" quickly overshadows song six with its eerie intro and surreal instrumental opening that lead to a sassy-ass chorus first introduced at 1:40. "Rolodex Propaganda" is famous for its inclusion of Iggy Pop, as he shares the verse and chorus duties with Cedric as the two battle back and forth for the title of most peculiarly placed and delivered vocals. It is, for the most part, a mindfuck, and includes the first blatant synths since 'Vaya'. "Quarantined" is a much more straightforward rock affair with very spacey guitar riffs as well as vocal back-and-forths between Cedric and Jim, not unlike "One Armed Scissor". "Cosmonaut" is like a condensed and sped-up version of the previous track with biting verses thanks to Cedric's commanding vocals, as he spews them forth with such conviction and sass that I can't help but love it. "Non-Zero Possibility" is the album's standard closer (although import variations can change that) and it seems like a good decision. It's a long stretch of slow, depressing and poignant ATDI driven by some very sad sounding piano.

Also recorded during the 'Relationship of Command' sessions but released primarily on splits and singles were "Catacombs" and "Incetardis". Both of these songs fucking rule. They totally should have been included on the full length but, alas, these things seem to happen regularly in the mainstream. "Catacombs" was initially released on a sampler but after hearing this version it is obvious that the sampler cut was a demo (demo version linked here). It opens with hand claps and crashes into the atmosphere right at the 30-second mark. The vocals on here are more aggressive than most ATDI songs, with a fair amount of screaming and evil whisperings. I love the balance of jungle rhythms and noise sections with the heavy, screamy and driving parts of the song, which help make it one of the band's best. This is the same as "Incetardis", with its disjointed and angular instrumental work, blazing screams and wonky lyrics (most notably the line, "Well this calamine lotion made my skin feel good"). I'd even go as far as to say this song sounds like These Arms Are Snakes.

Another standout track not released in most mainstream outlets was housed on their 'Sunshine split' and is titled "Extracurricular". This thing is a goddamn beast of a song and a contender for their best alongside "Sleepwalk Capsules", in my book at least. After a brief, existential guitar riff, the song barrels headfirst into hyperspace for 40 seconds or so, before reverting to 'Vaya'-era dance jams and incredibly sweet vocal interplay. Imagine if "Heliotrope" was perfected - you'd have "Extracurricular". One last song to note is "Doorman's Placebo" which came out on the 'Aasee Lake split'. It's pretty good but definitely pales in comparison to the other three rare tracks, as it takes on more of an 'In/Casino/Out' vibe with heavy emo leanings.

Then, at the height of their popularity and talent, they broke up.

That was AT THE DRIVE IN. For a very long time, at least.

In 2016, more than 15 years after the band's last true output, they released the single "Governed By Contagions" from their forthcoming comeback LP 'in•ter a•li•a'. I was very skeptical after hearing this song, but after giving the record proper time as I wrote this review, I'm in a "meh" state. It's a good album, but it's not exceptional. Am I asking too much? 100% yes. But after you release some of the best shit ever, disband, bicker, reform, break up again, reunite, record and release a new record 15 years later, it comes with the fucking territory. A few notes on this release besides my preconceived biases just mentioned, and are as follows. Hmm, "No Wolf Like the Present" is a weak opener. I think "Continuum" wants to be "Arc Arsenal" but can't quite do it because of mediocre verses, but that's a pretty decent chorus. "Pendulum In A Peasant Dress" sounds a hell of a lot like 'Risk Revival'-era Hot Cross. "Incurably Innocent" is a sick track with an impeccable chorus. "Torrentially Cutshaw" vaguely conjures up images of Coheed And Cambira, but vaguely is the key word here...uhhhh, except for Coheed And Cambria, I guess. Closer "Hostage Stamps" has a video (linked here) and has the best guitar riff on the album.

So there it is. A very brief overview of what I think of AT THE DRIVE IN's material. Brief? Eh, considering how much I could say about this band, this post is hella short. I feel inclined to point out the for fans of section up top again, as some of those bands are unreal and you've likely never heard of them. I should also link up some ATDI covers by my friends' bands, as Wolf Teeth does "Arc Arsenal" here and Youth Novel jams "Napoleon Solo" here.



1994 - Hell Paso 7"EP

1995 - ¡Alfaro Vive, Carajo! cd/7"EP

1996 - Acrobatic Tenement cassette/cd/12"LP

1997 - El Gran Orgo cdEP

1998 - In/Casino/Out cassette/cd/12"LP

1999 - Vaya cd/10"EP
1999 - The Aasee Lake split 7"

2000 - Sunshine split cd/12"EP
2000 - Relationship of Command cassette/cd/2xcd/12"/2x12"LP
2000 - The Murder City Devils split 7"
2000 - One Armed Scissor cd/7" single
2000 - Rolodex Propaganda cd/7" single
2000 - Burning Airlines split 7"

2001 - Invalid Litter Dept. cd/7"EP

2005 - This Station is Non-Operational cd/dvd compilation

2017 - in•ter a•li•a cassette/cd/12"LP


(2017) AT THE DRIVE IN - "Hostage Stamps" (from 'in•ter a•li•a') official music video

(2017) AT THE DRIVE IN - "Incurably Innocent" (from 'in•ter a•li•a')

(2017) AT THE DRIVE IN - "Pendulum In A Peasant Dress" (from 'in•ter a•li•a')

(2001) AT THE DRIVE IN - "Incetardis" (from 'One Armed Scissor')

(2000) AT THE DRIVE IN - "Sleepwalk Capsules" (from 'Relationship of Command')

(2000) AT THE DRIVE IN - "One Armed Scissor" (from 'Relationship of Command') official music video

(2000) AT THE DRIVE IN - "Invalid Litter Dept." (from 'Relationship of Command') official music video

(2000) AT THE DRIVE IN - "Extracurricular" (from 'Sunshine' split)

(2000) AT THE DRIVE IN - "Catacombs" (from 'Relationship of Command' import)

(2000) AT THE DRIVE IN - "Doorman's Placebo" (from 'The Aasee Lake' split)

(1999) AT THE DRIVE IN - "Heliotrope" (from 'Vaya')

(1999) AT THE DRIVE IN - "Proxima Centauri" (from 'Vaya')

(1998) AT THE DRIVE IN - "Napoleon Solo" (from 'In/Casino/Out')

(1998) AT THE DRIVE IN - "Chanbara" (from 'In/Casino/Out')

(1997) AT THE DRIVE IN - 'El Gran Orgo' full album stream

(1996) AT THE DRIVE IN - 'Acrobatic Tenement' full album stream

(1995) AT THE DRIVE IN - '¡Alfaro Vive, Carajo!') full album stream

(1994) AT THE DRIVE IN - 'Hell Paso' full album stream


AT THE DRIVE IN additional links

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