The self-referentiality “knock,” or critique, in music criticism is a funny thing — it can go both ways. The simplest forms of expression, too, like punk rock, are also the most ballsy — so the ensuing daring to unabashedly be simple, like say Green Day on “Say Goodbye,” has a funny way of circumventing what would otherwise be the catalogue-sameness fallacy which would dictate that bands always have to change. And insofar as I’m listening to this project in the first place, it follows that what I’d initially sought in this endeavor was an At the Drive-in record in every sense of the term… and that is indubitably what we get in in*ter a*li*a.
The band storms out of the gates on “No Wolf Like the Present” and “Continuum,” employing just enough distortion pedal and band tightness to sidestep the hazardous fall into Against Me/My Chemical Romance territory (which they many times threaten at least on “No Wolf Like the Present” with simple, infectious choruses). “Continuum” is a blistering roar with a yelling, atonal vocal and a bridge replete with a trippy meter alteration. A little too much spacy ambience dominates the second half of the song, but it’s made a strong impression by this time.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… this band is TIGHT. Production courtesy of Rich Costey and band guitarist (the Mars Volta-inhabiting) Omar Rodriguez-Lopez finds the bass climbing the walls of sounds with taut magnitude — crashing the party like a punkier Jeff Ament. The snare sound is HIGH and ear-piercing, leaving the listener wondering what hit him. Best of all, still, though, is Rodriguez’ vocals, particularly one bizarro, non-metric, near-end climax in “Continuum”: “I think I’ll drop a dime / I think I’ll drop a dime / I think I’ll drop a dime / I’ think I’ll DROP A DIME ON YOU FIRST!”
And like I said, this is to a tee an At the Drive-in album in every sense. If you told me it was recorded in 1999, I wouldn’t look funny at you at all. Any discussion of it, though, can’t help but tie matters to The Mars Volta (whom I’ve long since stopped paying attention to, partly for the fact that they scare me a little bit). Refreshingly, the songs are shorter here (just a tad), and he**, it’s punk. Just shows you, punk can make a comeback, people… by the same person who for 17 years been away from it, presiding over those yawnsville treks into cheap psychedelia. in*ter a*li*a is an album that will once again make your ears bleed — it’s tailor made for America in 2017, although to my ears thus far it’s not in the least bit political. 
You think things are going to slow down for “Governed by Contagions,” as it starts out ambiently and softly, but then we’re reminded all over that the head-spinning roller coaster ride of rocking is why we gravitate to this band in the first place. Still, “Governed by Contagions” marks out drums beats which are slightly more sporadic and rhythmically complex, before going into a 16th-note pummeling section. No musical theme is safe on this album, which is part of the appeal in the first place, your attention always rapt by the band’s inimitable, breakneck groove.
“Pendulum in a Peasant Dress” tosses out bitchin’ arpeggio guitar riffs very much bespeaking all things Volta — but the At the Drive-in groove doesn’t even miss a beat, hence betokening a key moment for the band’s evolution. Also, the refusal of Tony Hajjar’s drum beat to settle into any sort of regularity (the dude is just always tense and rhythmically off-kilter) provides a crushing punk antipathy to the proceedings which is the sort of thing that just can’t be taught. I mean, there’s no way a lead singer could be like, here, THIS is the drum beat you play in this part of the song, and that in that part of the song (of if he did, the album would take 17 years to record, mind you).
Side B starts to sort of settle into sameness — which to be sure is the At the Drive-in default mode… he** they haven’t changed at all in over two decades, save the few sparse moderations I’ve mentioned in this article. “Incurably Innocent” is essentially just miscellaneous ATDI white noise, indicative of little if any ambition to evolve on the part of the band. Sure, Cedric Bixler-Zavala still SELLS it on the vocals, but this thing doesn’t have any da** melody. Eh, still beats emo.
 To be honest, those protest albums never work, and Fugazi’s album they were supposed to release in response to Trump never even came out.