There are bands whose members keep to themselves, and when their career is up, they recede into the background, never really to be heard from again, except for maybe a side project that is inevitably less well-received than their main band. However, there exists another breed of musicians that seem to make an entire scene out of their own presence alone, and manage to both write solid music and remain incredibly prolific.
Nobody fits this latter archetype more than the members of At The Drive-In. Despite being a band that only released (as of this writing) three albums and really only found serious success with their (again, as of now) final album Relationship of Command, At The Drive-In’s members have gone on to do incredible things with their side projects and solo careers. (ATD guitarist Omar Rodríguez-Lopez has a discography that rivals the rest of his bandmates, with 28 solo albums.)
I can’t think of a better Connect the Dots to do than on these musicians, who, personally, have reinvented the way I’ve thought about music. Let’s hop in, shall we?
At the Drive-In
One of the quintessential post-hardcore acts along with Fugazi, Drive Like Jehu and Refused, (among many others), At the Drive-In has made themselves legendary as a band that is able to make music that is simultaneously interesting and aggressive. From the opening track of their third album Relationship of Command, “Arcarsenal,” to it’s end, “Catacombs” the band just leaps out of the starting gate with no holds barred. Singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala manages to contort his melodic falsetto into gruff yells and screams, and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez plays guitars that range from the standard poppy punk fare to creepy-sounding licks and light experiments in noise rock. It’s an album that manages to keep a death grip on your throat during every listen.
Track to Check Out: “Rolodex Propaganda”
The Mars Volta
While I was aware of At the Drive-In before discovering this band, The Mars Volta was the group that first got me into the music of Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler-Zavala, and more experimental music in general. Formed by Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala after the dissolvement of ATD in 2001, TMV reverses all the tropes of their former band, playing long, progressive songs that break away from traditional power chords and song structures, and, in later releases, even including influences of Latin music. Bixler-Zavala’s vocals are now melodic and fluid; no longer does he subject himself to only yelling verses and choruses.
The Mars Volta have gone on to be (arguably) a bigger band than At the Drive-In, releasing six albums in under ten years, all to relatively decent commercial and critical success (though most hardcore TMV fans consider the band’s first two albums Deloused in the Comatorium and Frances the Mute to be their best) before dissolving in 2012.
Track to Check Out: “Viscera Eyes” or “Drunkship of Lanterns”
Started by At the Drive-In guitarist/vocalist Jim Ward and drummer Tony Hajjar, Sparta sort of continues where ATD left off. Their debut, Wiretap Scars combines the aggression of post hardcore, but has more of a melodic hardcore edge than anything, along with some influence from standard alternative rock and emo music. It’s melancholy and a little angsty, which is great if you’re into similar bands like Mewithoutyou and Thursday. I can’t honestly say I’ve listened to Sparta a whole lot, but what I have spun I don’t hate.
Track to Check Out: “Cut Your Ribbon”
Bosnian Rainbows started as a side project by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez following the breakup of The Mars Volta, featuring Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes on vocals, with their debut (and as of this writing, only) album in 2013.
If you want to sum up BR in one word, that word would be weird. Maybe not as strange as other experimental rock acts like Black Moth Super Rainbow or even the band’s predecessors The Mars Volta during their more experimental moments, but it’s nonetheless a left turn from what you’d expect from a guitarist like Rodriguez-Lopez. BR incorporates a lot of electronic influences on top of some decent guitar work, with Teri’s voice often being distorted and played with. Essentially, this is like if TMV tried to be an experimental indie lounge act. It feels a little smaller, but the sound is still pretty cool.
Track to Check Out: “Worthless”
For our final side project for today we have Antemasque, consisting of former Mars Volta members Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez in their first group since TMV broke up.
When I had first heard of this project and their debut album, I basically rushed to my CD store to buy a copy. The sound I heard was unlike anything I’d really ever heard up until that point—a sort of weird mix of progressive and alternative rock, with a punk edge to it all. It’s strangely quiet, though; while TMV was all about noise and weird sounds, Antemasque uses pretty light distortion on all guitars, letting the instrumentation and songwriting really shine through. Bixler-Zavala’s vocals sound terrific, combining a sometimes-rough delivery with a melodic overall tone. Granted, it’s not perfect, but it’s worth a listen if you’ve been a fan of these musicians as I have.
Track to Check Out: “4AM”