Reunions; the word can spark a lot of emotions when brought up in the context of our favorite bands. In some cases, they work; Dinosaur Jr’s comeback with Beyond was a great reboot for the band, as well as the tours of sold out shows Sleep has endured since they’re reformation in 2009. On the other hand, some groups maybe should have stayed on hiatus (I’m looking at you Black Flag). In the case of At the Drive-In, the reunion has been a success. I, myself, was excited to hear that the Texas quintet was going to be touring again but when the news dropped that they were releasing a new album, I flipped. Granted this isn’t the band’s first reunion, but it seems like they’re going to be around for a couple more years based on the new album, In•ter a•li•a, and their upcoming appearances at some of the bigger festivals this year including Reading and Bonnaroo.
So what is it that makes In•ter a•li•a work versus other comeback albums? First, while the announcement of their first LP in seventeen years is exciting, it isn’t a complete shock. As fans will know, when At the Drive-In broke up in 2001 none of the members disappeared completely; guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and vocalist Cedric Bixler were quick to form The Mars Volta while other members went on to form Sparta, two bands that helped define independent music within the first decade of the 2000’s. Why is this important to the reunion of their first band? Athletes don’t stop working out between seasons, right? The same goes for musicians, the members were still making great music thus keeping their chops up which makes for a maturer band when .
Second and most important, the band is aware of their place in time, they know where they came from and what audience they’re playing to. Of course it’s important to reach outside of one’s zone for inspiration and update the sound from record to record. At the Drive-In successfully does that on In•ter a•li•a without losing sight of their post-hardcore roots that sparked the second wave of emotive music.
These qualities are best exemplified on the first tracks, No Wolf Like The Present and Continuum. One element that I noticed was missing from the band was their sloppy wall-of-sound style that drew arrangements further and further apart throughout a song only to be snapped back together gracefully much like the later material of Coltrane and other jazz greats. On In•ter a•li•a, the listener will hear a much tighter band with more dynamic changes like on these first couple tracks.
One of the songs I found most interesting on In•ter a•li•a was Governed By Contagions. One of the benefits of being an older band is that you get to take on more and more subject matter. “He’s the man behind the dresser giving Zodiac advice, he says there will come a day to delete everything” Bixler sings. The band has expressed political agendas before but never to this extent. While the lyrics take an observational point of view, the side At the Drive-In is singing from is clearly marked as far left. The lyrics don’t seem to pander to a liberal audience either unlike some of their contemporaries, the opinion is clearly their own.
The track with the most nostalgic value is the one that follows, Pendulum in a Peasant Dress. Cedric’s dual-tracked vocal parts fly all over the board while Omar’s difficult-to-copy single note guitar parts scatter beneath.
My favorite single was, without a doubt, Call Broken Arrow. Another thing fans have enjoyed about At the Drive-In is their ability to flirt with dissonance in their work. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is arguably one of the most underrated guitar players in my generation and this track featuring his versatility is a great example of why. I also enjoyed the use of maracas throughout the song, a nice coda to their album Relationship of Command that opens with the same instrumentation.
While In•ter a•li•a features a different sounding At the Drive-In than what fans are used to, after seventeen years I should hope it isn’t the same band. The energy is still present but it’s not turned up one hundred percent of the time like previous records. The band is mature and knows when to go into attack mode and when to bring it down again. In•ter a•li•a is an example of where a band can go after multiple decades dedicated to their instruments and style and a nod to the past without being nostalgic. Here’s to many more years of At the Drive-In and keeping only one foot in the past rather than both.
Click here to see Call Broken Arrow performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
– By Mike Metcalf