Here’s a weird concept: writing an album review a month or so after the album’s been out so the reviewer has had time to process it, rather than rushing it to coincide with the release date. And I know what you’re thinking: “Thad, you’re a huge Mars Volta dork, of course you’d love this album.” True, but also sort of incorrect. I am a huge Mars Volta fan and honestly, I think at their best they’re a hundred times more interesting than Cedric and Omar’s former and now current outfit, At the Drive In. So I was actually sort of lukewarm on the concept of an ATDI reunion. Struck me as an intentional nostalgia cash grab, which I think it is in a way , but who can blame them? Most squares still think ATDI is better, so there was an enormous amount of potential bucks on the table for them to reform the band and at least tour again. It’s certainly hard to fault any arty musician for turning down easy money.
All my way of saying, I was skeptical of the whole endeavor, but that skepticism proved to be unfounded as In·ter a·li·a knocks it out of the fucking park. And that’d be the thing, I honestly don’t even listen to much angry politically charged rock music at this point in my life (even though I used to yell-rant in a band that did this exact sort of shit), so my complete inability to go a day or two without jamming out to ATDI for the last month has shocked even me. It’s funny that Rage Against the Machine broke up right before the hideousness of the Bush administration, and ATDI somehow presciently reformed and made this record, not even consciously knowing how relevant to our current political climate it would end up being. Half of Cedric’s lyrics in non-ATDI projects are essentially about witchcraft of some variety, so I’m not surprised that they’d unintentionally wander into this sort of pre-cognitive art channeling territory.
Speaking of Bixler-Zavala, he’s the main reason why this all gels. TMV was more Omar’s baby, but Cedric sort of took the reins here and was like: ATDI comeback record? I got this. I actually stated publicly years ago in a review that after so many super dense psych prog records released in such a short span (during The Mars Volta’s heyday), the most radical thing these guys could do would be to put out an entire album of bare bones, to the point pop songs…which they then did with that Antemasque album. But Antemasque didn’t have the same spark of paranoia, surrealism, and blistering rage that propels ATDI. When I say this is a political record, it is in a very unique way. It essentially feels like a surrealist dystopian sci fi novel about someone way too deep in the military/prison industrial complex’s reality bending mindfuck espionage bullshit to ever get out, laced with a drug problem and a nagging conscience telling him that something is very, very wrong with it all.
Zavala catches a ton of shit for his lyrics not making sense, but the people lobbying these jabs are the same philistines who bitch at Grant Morrison for supposedly being incoherent (fun facts: Cedric’s writing is in fact influenced by people like Grant Morrison and Phillip K. Dick). Here’s a clue, poetic linguistics are designed to mimic the exotic states of consciousness we all experience but are indescribable with conventional prose. They’re more about conveying a feeling of transcendence than making logical sense. If you think lyrics like:
“Commotion sickness with Dramamine pills
Commute my sentence to the 13th floor now!”
“But the ultimatum clots a tapeworm hymnal
Lost the ghost tape registered as number 9
It’s going to be a long night comin’, she said I can never turn it off
Theirs is just a long lost grudge that will never fade away.”
“Put your hurt in a safe, throw it in wet cement
Never speak of this to a living soul
Heed the mercury blots of this Rorschach advice
No good will come of your insect rebellion.”
are purely nonsensical, I genuinely feel sorry for you. The ability to graft that sort of otherworldly linguistic beat poetry weirdness onto ear worm catchy tunes is a gift very few possess (Aesop Rock is the only other person I can think of that can truly pull this sort of thing off). And here’s where I admit that while I can’t honestly say In·ter a·li·a is better than Relationship of Command per se, it certainly gets stuck in my head more. It’s like a merging of ATDI’s earlier more melodic records with the Command intensity. Oh, and hey, they made some brilliant videos too, including the prison sex industrial complex vibes of Hostage Stamps:
And the genius: “Hey, everybody sing along to the batshit insanity” theme of these 2:
All highly recommended Disinfonauts. If you would have told me I’d end up listening to an album more then RTJ3 this year, I probably wouldn’t have believed you but here we’re at. If you’re a bit late to this party, it’s still raging so by all means, tune in.