At the Drive-In’s Top 10 Songs

El Paso's loudest export has returned for good, and now it's time to catch up


    Jesuit priests stalking down the mountain, the bishop sends his regards. Tumultuous bargains for a half-sacked ancestry, we paint our triggers on stone-cold eclipses. Reward! Reward! Disarm-the-pilots-in-a-colossal-bakery

    Yep, At the Drive-In have returned this week with a super good comeback album, in•ter a•li•a, and with their resurrection comes a slew of not-so-distant memories to our own halcyon days of classroom poetry, skinny jeans, and imminent screaming.

    We’re all older now, but so are they, and it’s somewhat astonishing how none of their post-hardcore anthems have left our tick-tock, sickle-cell cerebrums. It’s a hand salute to the sacrificed wisdom of riddled painters…


    Christ, there I go again. Just move along and enjoy the band’s 10 greatest songs.

    –Michael Roffman


    10. “Transatlantic Foe”

    Call it emo or post-hardcore or whatever you want, but at its heart, At the Drive-In are a punk band. Of course, no one would call them a pop-punk band, but In/Casino/Out closer “Transatlantic Foe” drifts particularly close to the late ’90s sound that many of their fans were immersed in. It wouldn’t be a look that would stick for At the Drive-In, but if anything, the song comes off like an alternate history of one of the many directions the band could have gone and how they could have found success regardless of what they chose. –Philip Cosores

    09. “Lopsided”

    While At the Drive-In’s debut, Acrobatic Tenement, offered a confused representation of what the band was at the time, their sophomore release, In/Casino/Out, solidified what the El Paso rockers needed to be for the future. With Omar Rodríguez-López dropping bass and picking up guitar, we get to hear a band that’s more self-aware and actively moving away from the post-hardcore music scene and into more progressive rock. “Lopsided”, in particular, is the tremendous leap. For further proof, know that the late Jeremy Michael Ward offered up the eerie piano key outro; mind you, he would later help create one of the genre’s most impressive latter-era albums, De-Loused in the Comatorium. Need I say more? –Phillip Roffman

    08. “Heliotrope”

    1999’s Vaya EP was a snapshot of a band at volatile crossroads. Marking the middle ground between At the Drive-In’s scrappy-yet-earnest punk rock origins and the more math-like direction they would eventually take to the hilt, it’s a record that sounds brash but focused. “Heliotrope” catches that go-between expertly. It drives with the might of many late ’90s/early ’00s post-punk bands, but it’s not short on artistic flourishes either. Cedric Bixler-Zavala barks his high-minded vocals with fierce conviction, while Rodríguez-López’s lead guitar part gives the song some added warmth and texture. No other song in the band’s catalog wraps its arms around what the band was and what it was bound to become so expertly. –Ryan Bray

    07. “Chanbara”


    Never has a song about Italian anti-personnel equipment sheering through flesh and bone in the face of independence and anarchy sounded so … inviting. The invitation comes to us in the form of Bixler-Zavala’s once easily digestible syntax, a key feature that was missing on latter performances and projects. Still, you must give credit where credit is due, and that bass in the beginning that opens the envelope to the song is a direct example of why bassist Paul Hinojos is involved in every project to ever come out of At the Drive-In. Woof. –Phillip Roffman

    06. “Proxima Centauri”

    As Ryan mentioned above, Vaya marks the middle ground of ATDI — a moment where the band’s punk roots were mixing with their new post-hardcore leanings. “Proxima Centauri” shows the beginnings of Bixler-Zavala’s experimentation with more abstract, poetic lyrics (“Under the breath, under the fall Caligula time warp/ Decadence in fleets come rain storming”), and Rodríguez-López and Jim Ward bending and destroying their guitars in the choruses creates swirling textured sounds for a beautiful, chattering Benzedrine freak-out. At the song’s heart, however, still holds strong the hammering punk energy that brought In/Casino/Out to the forefront. –Nick Freed

    05. “Invalid Litter Dept”

    The glory of Relationship of Command comes from its multi-layered soundscapes that expand and contract like lungs or heart valves from song to song. Stuck between two frantic hardcore tracks lies the twisting and emotionally charged heartbeat of “Invalid Litter Dept.” Written as an eye-opening tribute to the unsolved murders of young women in Juarez, Mexico, a city just across the border from ATDI’s hometown of El Paso, TX, the track spends most its time with Bixler-Zavala delivering spoken word verses and powerful refrains in the choruses. The song is a stroke of genius thanks to the whispered “dancing on the corpses ashes” and the explosive bridge that follows. The band pulverizes their instruments, and Bixler-Zavala tears his voice to shreds with cathartic closing screams. A more than fitting tribute to lives lost too soon. –Nick Freed

    04. “One Armed Scissor”

    Every diamond album needs that single to propel a band into national acclaim, and there’s no question that “One Armed Scissor” was that vehicle for At the Drive-In. Not only was it their most explosive song onstage during their tour of Relationship of Command, but it was with each recorded performance, like Jools Holland or The Late Show with David Letterman, where fans both new and old collectively knew that the world of pop culture found something that was going to destroy the comfortable plasticity of Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears that 2000 insisted upon all of us. –Phillip Roffman

    03. “Napoleon Solo”

    Probably the most emo song in At the Drive-In’s catalog (or maybe “Hourglass”), “Napoleon Solo” in many ways also foreshadows Bixler-Zavala’s later vocals for the Mars Volta, when his singing would take center stage over his screaming. Of course, what makes “Napoleon Solo” so powerful is the interplay between the singer’s cries and screams, his intensity growing and matching the song’s upward trajectory. Add to the formula Rodriguez-Lopez and Ward’s ominous one-two guitar punch and the repeating sentiment that “this is forever,” and you have the most overtly emotional song in the ATDI canon, and the most haunting. –Philip Cosores

    02. “Pattern Against User”


    For as abrasive and scrappy and delusional as they sounded, At the Drive-In could really knock out an accessible harmony. The closest they ever came to a legit pop song, however, was “Pattern Against User”, the second slice off Relationship of Command. Here they utilize all their respective strengths to carve out their catchiest anthem, though the true MVPs of this track are Bixler-Zavala and Jim Ward. How their vocals repeatedly coagulate and rip apart over the spacey post-rock is almost Beatles-like, hinting at the more melodic underbelly that the album capitalized on to obvious acclaim. As my brother already pointed out, much of that success hindered on Bixler-Zavala’s then “easily digestible syntax,” which makes lines like “wormed our way through distant earth” so curiously addicting. –Michael Roffman

    01. “Arcarsenal”

    Great records pretty much demand a hot start, but the ante was upped significantly on Relationship of Command. On a record already loaded with prog punk explosiveness, At the Drive In’s 2000 swan song needed something white hot to ignite the flame. From the percussive build-up all the way through to its noisy, cathartic finish, “Arcarsenal” plays like a musical zero hour that sets the tone for the 10 tracks to follow. Call it one song, the song, that paved the way for one of the best post-punk albums of the ’00s. –Ryan Bray

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