It seems impossible to start a review of the new At The Drive-In record without first romanticising the band’s journey thus far. Since their announced return in 2015, countless articles have spilled forth concerned primarily with retelling their formation, their numerous band line-ups, the trials and tribulations of being brilliant yet unsung in their time, and the 17-year chrysalis since 2000’s modern classic ‘Relationship Of Command’ that sees them return finally almost two decades later with their latest effort, ‘in•ter a•li•a’.
This DIY punk backstory has a dual effect. On the one hand, it gives the band something in which to ground their history, soaking up all of the cult-credit juice that comes with it. But, this myth has now become their driving creative concern, and it is one that threatens to overtake the complexity and majesty of the music itself.
This inescapable battle between past and present consumes the band as much as it does their commentators. In a recent interview with The New York Times, guitarist and primary song-machine Omar Rodríguez-López summed up the approach that band took, “When we were first talking about doing a new record, the first thing I did was to make a list: What were the movies I was watching? What were the books I was reading, and what was the music? […] It was a process of going and watching those films and rereading those books and listening to that music […] Then everything else comes naturally.”
The band are trying to recapture their old essence in its entirety, picking up where they left off. Strange then, that the chorus of opener ‘No Wolf Like The Present’ spits out the seemingly self-referential: “There’s no wolf like the present / They own your history and scrap it for parts / There’s no wolf like the present / Of insignificance”. Is this a tacit, tongue-in-cheek admission of their own conceit, or is it merely a purposeless line, cool-for-cool’s-sake?
It’s probably not a good idea to approach this album cynically. For the most part, the record is complex, angry, and very listenable; stand out tracks include ‘Pendulum In A Peasant Dress’, in which the guitar demonstrates an incredible amount of personality, and the closing track, ‘Holtzclaw’.
The band have not lost a single iota of the fury or the polysyllabic lyrics that initially fired them into relative obscurity last century; whether you see that as a devoted attempt to give the fans a sense of continuity, or as a troubling lack of progression is up to you.
Written by Chris Yeoh (@Chris_Yeoh)