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Music / At the Drive-In

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At the Drive-In is a Post-Hardcore band from El Paso, Texas that was formed in 1993 by vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitar Jim Ward.

For the first few years of their existence, the band gradually built up a cult following, mainly due to the intensity of their live act. Following a couple of EPs and a debut album that went relatively unlauded, the band hit its stride with the additions of Tony Hajjar and Paul Hinojos on drums and bass respectively, along with bassist Omar Rodríguez-López transitioning to guitar. Their lineup finally stabilized, the band released their sophomore effort In/Casino/Out in 1998, which was followed by a period of virtually non-stop touring that solidified their reputation as one of the preeminent bands of the Post-Hardcore movement. The band also released the highly regarded EP Vaya in 1999.

In 2000, the band released their third album, Relationship of Command. Although the record was critically lauded and attracted several new fans, the band announced an indefinite hiatus in early 2001, citing their exhaustion over touring along with disagreements over the direction the band should go on.

Following the dissolution of the group, Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala would go on to start the prog-rock band The Mars Volta, while Ward, Hinojos, and Hajjar formed the alternative rock band Sparta. In 2012, the band temporarily reformed to play a series of live shows, though no new material was produced. The band reunited again in 2015. They released the single "Goverened by Contagion" in December 2016, followed by a new album, Inter Alia, in 2017, and an EP, Diamanté, later the same year.

Core discography:

  • Hell Paso (EP, 1994)
  • ¡Alfaro vive, carajo! (EP, 1995)
  • Acrobatic Tenement (1996)
  • El gran Orgo (EP, 1997)
  • In/Casino/Out (1998)
  • Vaya (EP, 1999)
  • Relationship of Command (2000)
  • This Station Is Non-Operational (anthology, 2005)
  • Inter alia (2017)
  • Diamanté (EP, 2017)

''At the Drive-In contains examples of the following tropes:

  • After the End: "Quarantined" has lyrics that allude to martial law in the wake of The Plague or World War III.
  • all lowercase letters: The title of Inter alia is not merely written this way, but it's written with bullet points between the syllables, as in a dictionary: inter alia.
  • Berserk Button: The band loathed being grouped with "hardcore" bands on the grounds that they viewed them as dumb and misogynistic. As such, every single member of the band would enforce a strict anti-moshing policy at their shows, and they would become furious if it was violated. Here are some examples.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Like Spiritual Successor The Mars Volta, they use Spanish occasionally. Translations and explanations of EP titles and selected song titles incorporating Spanish:
    • Hell Paso is a bilingual pun on the name of their hometown (in case you were wondering and hadn't guessed, "El Paso" is Spanish for "The Pass").
    • ¡Alfaro Vive, Carajo! means Alfaro Lives, Dammit! and is named after a clandestine left-wing group in Ecuador, named after popular government leader Eloy Alfaro.
    • El gran Orgo means The Great Orgo; it's a reference to a character in Alejandro Jodorowsky's film Santa Sangre.
    • Vaya has several different meanings. Most commonly, it's a subjunctive form of the verb ir (to go) in several different persons. It can also express surprise; be used to mean "what a..." before a noun; be used colloquially in much the fashion of the English colloquialisms "you know" or "like" (usually at the end of a sentence); or mean "joke" or "taunt".
    • "Rascuache" is a Mexican-American colloquialism meaning "kitschy", "tacky", "of poor quality", or "of little value".
    • Diamanté means I Shined Like a Diamond. (The word diamanté also has diamond-related meanings in English and French, though not identical to the Spanish one; however, it's not as common to see it written in English with an acute accent.)
  • Broken Record: Very frequently a one-, two-, or even four-line phrase will be repeated several times in succession. May double as a Madness Mantra, as at the end of "Metronome Arthritis".
  • Careful with That Axe / Metal Scream: Cedric was much more prone to this here than on his and Omar's later projects. Notable examples include the ending to "Invalid Litter Dept.", as well as the buildup on "Cosmonaut" ("IS IT HEAVIER THAN AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIR").
  • Church of Happyology: Bixler Zavala was briefly a member sometime around 2013-2015, but by 2018, he'd become a harsh critic, calling it a "modern-day version of ''The Handmaid's Tale" and accusing it of covering up the sexual assaults of his wife and others.
  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: Explicitly inverted - beyond the point of merely verging into Digital Piracy Is Okay - in the case of El gran Orgo, as the band said buying the record was unethical: "When you buy El gran Orgo you do not support ATDI, you support DISHONESTY!" This is largely due to issues the band had with their record label at the time that led to a lawsuit.
  • Ennio Morricone Pastiche: According to Omar, "Non-Zero Possibility" is a subtle one. He also called it "the best thing we ever did".
  • Epic Rocking: As the band's sound evolved, they began dabbling in this more and more. It reached a peak on Relationship of Command where 4 songs stretched the 5 minute mark.
  • Erudite Stoner: Bixler Zavala confessed to having been smoking $1,000 worth of weed a week. As for the "erudite" part... the lyrics kind of speak for themselves.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Played straight with "Lopsided"/"Hourglass", "Enfilade"/"Rolodex Propaganda", and "Quarantined"/"Cosmonaut". "One Armed Scissor"/"Sleepwalk Capsules" manages to combine this trope with Fake-Out Fade-Out in a way; there's a strange coda at the end of "One Armed Scissor" that occurs after a brief silence; it really feels more like the intro to "Sleepwalk Capsules".
  • Gratuitous Japanese: Given that Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala are well-known cinema buffs (see also the Federico Fellini reference in The Mars Volta's name), "Chanbara" ("チャンバラ") is probably a reference to the Japanese name for the genre dubbed "samurai cinema" in English-language media. Akira Kurosawa's films like Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Throne of Blood, Yojimbo, and Ran are undoubtedly the best-known exemplars of the genre in the West.
  • Gratuitous Latin: Inter alia means Among Other Things in Latin, though it's sometimes used untranslated in English as well (usually in academic writings).
  • Grief Song: The "198d", "Napoleon Solo", and Acrobatic Tenement examples below under Real Life Writes the Plot.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Whether by accident or planned, all of their EP titles are at least partially in Spanish, while all of their album titles before their reformation are English (Inter alia is also sometimes used without translation in English, though usually in academic writings).
  • I Have Your Wife: "Enfilade" seems to be about a child kidnapping in which a mother is threatened with the loss of her child's life if the ransom isn't paid on time.
  • Large Ham: Cedric is, if anything, even hammier here than he is with The Mars Volta, probably due to his more frequently deployment of the Metal Scream.
  • Loudness War: As with The Mars Volta, most of their albums are clipped. Probably unsurprisingly, it got worse on their later albums; Relationship of Command (DR6) is a lot louder than In/Casino/Out (DR9). Inter alia (DR5) is louder still, and Diamanté (DR4) is even louder (though strangely, Diamanté, unlike everything since In/Casino/Out, barely clips at all).
  • Lyrical Dissonance: They have a few examples. In particular, musically, "Invalid Litter Dept." seems like one of the band's cheeriest songs. Until you listen to the lyrics. See Real Life Writes the Plot below.
  • Motor Mouth: Cedric can often get this way. The verses of "Invalid Litter Dept." are a good example.
  • New Sound Album: In contrast to the more straightforward punk they recorded previously, In/Casino/Out features some more traditionally alternative rock tracks, more emphasis on the guitars, and more variation rhythmically. Relationship of Command increased the Psychedelic Rock influence on their sound, and foreshadows the breakup of the band due to Creative Differences (see the trivia page for more on that).
  • Post-Hardcore: One of the most famous examples of the genre.
  • Protest Song: "Invalid Litter Dept.", as noted below under Real Life Writes the Plot.
  • Rape as Drama: "Invalid Litter Dept." (again) and "Incurably Innocent", again as described under Real Life Writes the Plot.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • "Invalid Litter Dept." is written about a series of real-life rapes and murders in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, which is just across the Rio Grande from the band's hometown of El Paso, Texas. The song explicitly condemns the Mexican police, called federales, for their inaction in solving the crimes.
    • "198d" is about drummer Tony Hajjar's grandmother, who is buried in a mass grave in Lebanon. The song title is evidently the inscription on the grave.
    • "Napoleon Solo" is an elegy for Laura Beard and Sarah Reiser, two friends of the band who died in a car accident. (The backup vocals on "Ludvico Drive-In" from ¡Alfaro vive, carajo! were theirs, and they had also formed the short-lived punk group The Fall on Deaf Ears with Bixler-Zavala and Rhythm of Black Lines' Clint Newsom.) They died on March 23, 1997, hence the date's mention in the chorus, and At the Drive-In were in New Orleans for a show when they got the news. They felt their performance at that night's show was subpar ("if you can't get the best of us now") due to their shock and grief ("it's 'cause this is forever"). Bixler-Zavala has indicated that "Ticklish" and "Coating of Arms" also contain allusions to the girls' death (the latter contains a lament about losing friends "to the pavement").
    • "Incurably Innocent" is evidently Bixler-Zavala's response to his wife's sexual assault specifically, the Church of Happyology's role in covering it up, and more generally, in Bixler-Zavala's words, "a song about sexual abuse and being able to finally speak out."
    • Much of Acrobatic Tenement was evidently a response to the life and suicide of the band's close friend Julio Venegas. The Mars Volta's De-Loused in the Comatorium and "Concertina" would later revisit this subject.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Like The Mars Volta, their lyrics (and, for that matter, song titles) average a larger number of syllables and letters per word than the average rock band's. In particular, there tend to be a rather disproportionate number of medical and scientific terms in their lyrics and song titles.
  • Shout-Out: Many of their lyrics and album/song titles are references to cinema, literature, or other works of popular culture, though the song titles don't always line up with the subject matter. In additions to examples explained above under Bilingual Bonus:
    • "Napoleon Solo" is named for the eponymous character of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but he doesn't have any obvious connection to the song, which, as mentioned above, is a Grief Song in response to a car crash that killed two friends of the band.
    • "Porfirio Díaz" facetiously inverts Karl Marx's "Workers of the world, unite!" into "Rich kids of the world, unite!" The song title itself is a historical reference, as mentioned below under Villain Song; while the song itself doesn't directly refer to its namesake, it does rather strongly imply the band's opinion of him.
    • "Grand Mox Turkin" is a Pun-Based Title referring to the Star Wars character Grand Moff Tarkin.
    • "Ludvico Drive-In" is probably a reference to The Ludovico Technique from A Clockwork Orange.
    • There's a reference to The Handmaid's Tale in "Ghost-Tape No. 9".
  • Spoken Word in Music:
    • Iggy Pop issues a faux-ransom phone call at the start of "Enfilade". (He also provides backing vocals on "Rolodex Propaganda", which are not so much an example of this trope).
    • The verses of "Invalid Litter Dept." are another noteworthy example, as spoken-word narration alternates with the recurring, sung motif "dancing on the corpses' ashes"; Bixler-Zavala's performance here also doubles as a case of Motor Mouth and perhaps also Large Ham (but as Tropes Are Tools, this arguably only makes them more effective).
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Jim Ward sings "Hourglass" from In/Casino/Out and "Ursa Minor" from the Vaya EP.
  • Villain Song: "Porfirio Díaz": "We're proud to be assholes". While the lyrics don't directly refer to him, the song takes its name from a controversial politician who served as president of Mexico from 1876 to 1880 and again from 1884 to 1911. We'll give you three guesses what the members of ATDI think of him.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Though, to be fair, some of them are a lot less word salad-y when you know what they refer to. These may be cases of Viewers Are Geniuses, even.