Listening: Music Education starting with A for At The Drive In

Recently we had to make a surprise trip to Florida to be with an ailing family member. While there is a lot of stuff to do, there is plenty of downtime as well when a trip is unplanned. Plus there is the drive. I started to think about music. I realized that while my music listening is varied, I was beginning to stick to the same 30-40 bands. This came painfully apparent when I started to make a playlist with my new Apple music streaming account.  I was trying to put a list together for the trip of my favorite artists from their essentials series. My playlist is up to 1750 something songs.

But let’s face it.  That is a drop in the bucket of the music that is out there. One night I thought of a new idea for the blog. Every week I would use my Apple Music account to dig into an artist/band I haven’t heard anything beyond the singles. I’ve always been an album person so this a good way to have the soundtrack for the week.

Then I realized there were 28 weeks left for the year.  How about making this more of a novelty project and work my way through the alphabet while taking a break for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So I was confronted with choosing a band that started with the letter A. So I decided to start with At the Drive-In.


At the Drive-In, live at Lollapalooza in 2012. From left to right, Omar Rodríguez-López, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar (partially obscured), and Paul Hinojos Credit: Shane Hirschman

For some of you, you will be head scratching.  Others, you will be thinking how haven’t you listened to them.


For the first group, they are often described as post-hardcore whatever that means.  I really can’t explain them. They rock, that’s all you need to know. For the second group, they were around at a time when I really couldn’t afford music, and my dial-up was too slow for Napster.  In fact, I didn’t know they existed until I got a work computer from New Orleans Parish Schools that hadn’t been wiped from the previous year. The person’s mom was dean of NYU Student Life, so the former teacher went and ripped a bunch of their CDs to the computer.  One that struck me was the Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute. It’s a prog album, and it became one of my soundtrack albums for my post-Katrina year.

The Mars Volta features Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bilxer-Zavala from At the Drive-In. I’ve always been one of those people that when they discover an artist, they like they want to learn everything about that artist. So I’ve wanted to listen to At The Drive-In for some time.

They didn’t disappoint.

Brief history, they made three albums and various eps in the late 90s ending with Relationship of Command.  They split into the aforementioned prog Mars Volta and the more alternative-rock Sparta.  We saw Sparta live about a decade ago opening for Old 97s.  The reunited for a few shows in 2012 and then came back together around 2015 minus only one member, Jim Ward. They have recorded one album in the new newly reformed lineup.

They rock very hard, and these albums contain some of the most vivid imagery in their lyrics (Tease this amputation/Splintered larynx) even if they are always cryptic. Bilxer-Zavala also has one of those voices that only about one percent of humans have and he can’t take it almost anywhere he wants. Musically, they sound as if their songs are well planned out, scripted even, and the result of jam at the same time. However, after listening to their albums and watching some live performances, I’m not sure they have ever been adequately captured in the studio. They are not a band that can be contained well.  They are a band that when they are together, they can make a glorious noise.

Next up: The Band