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Posted Aug 27th, 2015 (7:30 pm) by Justin Goodman
At the Drive-in

On October 15th of 1994, two high school students in El Paso, Texas played the first show of what would become a solar flare.

It would be Rimbaudian, dying out quickly and living forever. It would endlessly tour, play full sets in empty trailer parks, record their first full-length LP for $600 after meeting the three members who would remain until the end, sign with Fearless Records and release two more albums before ending up on Grand Royale (Beastie Boy's Mike D’s label) where they would record the 2001 album that would shift sound and reimagine a genre. But it was 1994, and Jim and Cedric knew nothing of the seven year trip.

Very few people do. That’s what makes the story of Relationship of Command pulsating and frustrating. It’s as alive as its lyrics and rhythms. As vague and populated with aggression and exhaustion. As clustered in paranoid delusions. “People always say we broke up out of nowhere and we imploded because of the popularity,” former bassist and guitarist Omar Rodriguez said, “it was just that I felt it was our time.” Frontman Cedric Bixler said, “By that point, it was like, let’s go home, let’s rest a little.” Paul Hinojos, bassist, said, “we were all perfectly happy. We even planned on increasing our touring. It was just one of those things.” Guitarist and co-founder Jim Ward said, “We’d been in Europe and it had been mind-numbing…at that point, Omar and Cedric decided they wanted to do something else.”

You see, the world around Relationship of Command is the “manuscript replica” of their "Rolodex Propaganda." A whirlwind of circumstance and creative minds, that is to say. Some left field events such as their producer Ross Robinson had been talking to Iggy Pop (of The Stooges fame) and showed him At The Drive-In’s previous albums, convincing him to contribute to the album with the opening of “Enfilade” and singing in “Rolodex Propoganda.” Other man-made madness includes Robinson driving Paul “in an SUV really fast through the hills of Malibu, where there was no barrier, to get his adrenaline going.” That’s not mentioning the $1000 a week spent on weed. It’s unsurprising that the album was a masterpiece, as all masterpieces are coincidences.

The album became an unlikely billboard member, and spawned the numerous tours that partly tired them out. But just 3 years ago there was a reunion tour. With no intention of making new music, the five performed possibly for the last time as At the Drive-In. But the tour itself cannot escape conflicting feelings: Cedric saying “we got paid money, but that wasn’t why I did it. I did it to rekindle old friendships.,” while Omar disagreed: “an offer of money every year. You can’t avoid that. You’d be a fool or a politician to pretend that wasn’t part of it.” Cedric and Omar, as they did in 2001 to form the Mars Volta, left to form Bosnian Rainbows.

It’s fitting that the Trojan Horse is prominent on the album cover. Hundreds of soldiers huddled in the dark heat of nonporous wood, all filled with adrenaline and confusion and anticipation. That’s my feeling when listening to Relationship of Command again. It wouldn’t be quite right to call it the beginning of the end for At the Drive-In. They were destined to burn out. Rather, the album is their dirge and its silencing story reads like the lines of the last track, “Catacombs”:

"Pendulum swing through tantrum slits
This scalpel's gaze untamed won't feel romantic
What's that sound?
Caskets floating."

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