This is a short, quick, and brutally beautiful EP from everyone's favorite defunct El Paso indie/punk quintet. In order to retain interest among their fanbase before the release of their fatally successful Relationship of Command
, ATDI came out with Vaya
in 1999. The line-up for this band was:
Cedric Bixler Zavala- Vocals
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez- Lead Guitar
Jim Ward- Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals
Paul Hinojos- Bass
Tony Hajjar- Drums
Although there is really nothing quite resembling "lead" or "rhythm" on these tracks, it's widely accepted that Omar played the more melodic guitar parts which resembled "noodling" or "distorted ambient fuzz," both techniques which he would display in excess once he and Cedric formed The Mars Volta. Jim was heavily involved in the actual songwriting process, and you can hear his left-channel chords as well as assorted shouting on the album. The rest of the band functions about as normally as you would expect from such an abnormal, unique band.
This EP may seem short, but I'm sure if you took most of your semi-decent albums out of your collection and threw away all the filler, you'd be left with something of equal lenght and quality. Which is to say that At the Drive-In have deleted all unnecessary tracks from this album and reduced it to its raw, cathartic, pleading, abstract essence. The album contains at least everything you have come to expect from ATDI: shouting, screaming renditions of lyrics which make no sense (even though it FEELS like they do); clean guitars strummed with the ferocity of a punk band; and an overall vibe of "Wait... what?" Whatever Cedric is yelling about, it sure feels like something vaguely socio-political, as if you're guilty of not doing something you really should have done. But far from making us truly feel guilty, Vaya
makes us feel warm and comforted, if a little bit heartbroken, by its conclusion.
The opening song starts off with a bit of ambient awe, as well as some thunderous synthesized drum beats. Then Cedric's vocals come in, interrupted by a sudden burst of good old-fashioned ATDI guitar power. The chorus brings everything back to normal, if not a bit slower. But certainly no less subdued. "Here comes the bride, here comes the bride, lavender and smothered in black turpentine!" Okay.
2. Proxima Centauri:
This song combines two of the band's favorite lyrical subjects: astronomy and ancient Rome. They don't have much in common, but that's not what ATDI would have you believe. "No one ever saw the spacesuit togas," doesn't sound very safe, and neither is this song. The high-energy distorted bass line in the intro underscores the ascending guitar slides and Cedric's "T-minus/ ten seconds and counting," leaving you in anticipation. This song pays off in full for whatever you might be expecting of it. Intensity maybe? Definitely.
3. Ursa Minor:
Here we have a song which is not very special in terms of the rest of the album, but is still a great listen nonetheless. The chorus and subdued bridge are slightly more upbeat, which doesn't seem to appear anywhere else in the album. So thank them for giving us a little break from the madness, only to end anyway with a shout of "Autopsy!"
This is one of ATDI's most intense, fast-paced songs, ranked with the likes of "Cosmonaut" on their final album. Indeed, the songs follow a similar pattern of brutally energetic riffs which pause only for a moment in the chorus. The only problem this song suffers is that the lyrics are beyond lazy. "Turn slowly for maximum vend?" Sorry Cedric, you can't sing about gumball machines, regardless of what you want us to think the deeper meaning is. Like most ATDI songs, you'll just have to ignore the lyrics and focus on the energy.
5. Metronome Arthritis:
A much slower song greets us here, and if you have little patience then you may not be able to wait for the song to pick up steam. It has the most clear-cut lyrics about a criminal on the run, but the way Cedric sings them makes them a bit hard to understand for a while. Then the song picks up and the chorus/solo from Omar lead the song into a very powerful and rewarding payout. Don't give up on this song, it will deliver.
6. 300 Mhz:
Wow, this is arguably the weirdest song At The Drive-In have ever recorded. A rather funky, swingy beat grabs us as Cedric mumbles something over a bullhorn or something. There's not much to understand in this song, but there are two lyrical exceptions in this song. Cedric says both the title of the song (a rarity) and "fuck," which is even rarer for this normally too-obtuse-to-be-blatant band. The song is still pretty good, even if it's really, really bizarre by this band's standards.
All right, listen up closely: this is the greatest, most powerful, most moving song that At the Drive-In has ever recorded. You can judge for yourself if you must, and even if you have some other personal favorite, you can't deny the beauty of this song. It's a slower, quieter (in the verse), almost ballad-like song. But the chorus and bridge are where the song truly shines, as well as Jim's backing vocals. If you're ever feeling down or kind of low, this song probably won't lift your spirits much. But it will empathize with you and amplify your mood, and you won't mind because you'll be so awed. If you think the hyperbole is a bit off-putting, then please don't listen to the song and have your hopes dashed. Just listen to it without expectations, to see how you feel about it. But I really think it's magnificent.
This seven-song EP is possibly the band's greatest work, just from the consistency and strength of every track. I wouldn't say that EVERYONE should own it, but anyone who likes this type of music will undoubtedly be impressed and satisfied with Vaya
. I'll give it a 4.5/5.