Review Summary: That's the way the toy monkey claps.
It’s difficult to approach in•ter a•li•a
without feeling At The Drive-In
’s previous efforts looming over one’s shoulder. The average Relationship of Command
acolyte (upon release) has roughly doubled in age since Y2K. Combining the forward-thinking ambiguity of that record with the chronological gap between then and now, many fans treat RoC
- and, to a lesser extent, their other efforts - as sacrosanct. On in•ter a•li•a
, At The Drive-In, and vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala especially, have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you spend seventeen years treating musicians like demigods, expect them to act like it when they take the podium. In previous outings, Bixler-Zavala acted like someone on permanent red alert, knocking on doors and grabbing strangers by the shirt collars in a frenzy. Here, he has graduated to cult leadership. He now sings with shrewd deliberation, rather than manic obsession; more suited to a stadium than delirium; no longer shouting skyward among rubble and disarray, now shouting outward to a legion of drunk, grinning faces. Like Billie Joe Armstrong did with Green Day
’s American Idiot
, Cedric has matured quite a bit, and realized there are hordes of devoted listeners sincerely eager to hear his messages. But, Billie Joe had something to say, and said it simply. in•ter a•li•a
is chock full of anthems that lack the emotional weight of actual anthems, and the only cogent message is the fanfare of homecoming.
That’s not to say in•ter a•li•a
is a failure. Quite the opposite, it’s exactly the album we expected, and probably the one many fans need. The album embodies the solidarity in rejoicing as brothers-in-arms. Many of the best ATD-I moments of yore were when the song culminated in Cedric belting sweatily and with conviction; and it’s difficult to not want to scream “I write to rememberrrrr!
” on “One-Armed Scissor”, or “Ayachuco, ayachuco, ayachuco!
” on “Chanbara” (after googling the lyrics, or hopelessly ad-libbing), alongside him. in•ter a•li•a
is one call to arms after another after another. These are songs intended to amp up an audience and alter the earth’s axial tilt with every jump. At times, we can envision guitarists Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Keeley Davis (from Sparta
) as Coma-Doof Warriors, playing with nonstop dedication, as though in shackles. They steal the show, and can’t really be criticized in terms of technicality and inventiveness. “Tilting at the Univendor” could probably fit in on 1999’s Vaya
or 1998's In/Casino/Out
: it’s youthful and lighthearted, laden with guitar hooks, and an engaging relationship between drummer Tony Hajjar and bassist Paul Hinojos. In a recent interview with NME, Hajjar said of their newest, “when it was done we went into the studio control room, the last day of recording, we all just hugged each other.
” Basically, in•ter a•li•a
is, indeed, a big group hug.
This is a bit of an odd way for the dust to settle. The jump cuts add some conceptual intrigue, with utterances of sterilization and government-imposed curfews (on “Call Broken Arrow”), and sounds equal part slime and static (on “No Wolf Like The Present”); but, rarely do we truly feel threatened. Cedric isn’t the Abbie Hoffman of post-hardcore, but he walks the walk, theatrics and all. This album is made for the stage, and the vocalist is no longer the ambivert he once was. On “Incurably Innocent”, which, according to Bixler-Zavala is supposed to be based on a newfound ability to shed light on sexual abuse, the limelight still includes Hinojos, Hajjar, Rodriguez-Lopez, and Davis, who render the song a flourish of instrumentation - not a compelling psychodrama. Previous albums at least had moments of calm introspection that played off of the surrounding storm, humanizing Bixler-Zavala. in•ter a•li•a
doesn’t quit. There is no time to make sense of preceding chaos, probably because there is nothing worth making sense of. Penultimate "Ghost-Tape No. 9" dials things back a bit, sure, but it calls to mind the weaker The Mars Volta
ballads where the most interesting portion is the instrumental coda. On past efforts (yes, we’re belabouring the comparisons here a bit), the band members played and sang with such conviction, you’d be fairly certain they meant every single word, however farfetched. Here, we all know it’s nonsensical and fun. We’re in on the gag. The Trojan horse isn’t so captivating when you’re inside it. Even less so when there are no walls left to breach.