Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Mars Volta

Since rising from the rubble of what was once critically acclaimed punk-rock outfit At the Drive -In, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala (as The Mars Volta) have charted their own sonic course aesthectically to much fanfare and probably even more disdain. With influences as diverse as prog-rock, hardcore, salsa and dub (Bixler-Zavala name checking Yes and Public Image Limited in the same sentence) Volta’s sound is sprawling, indulgent and long-winded- dissipating into entropy at times only to reconstitute, breaking down into manic post-hardcore.

This post is basically a rundown of their catalogue as of now.

The Tremulant EP
– Their initial demo as a newly formed band was produced by Alex Newport and contains three songs. This EP was rough but really hinted at the direction the new project would take. Introducing a new sound for front man Bixler-Zavala and a decidedly psychedelic slant, while remaining firmly grounded in their punk/hardcore roots

Deloused in the Comatorium
— The record that really established the band’s M.O. heralding the arrival of the Volta we know today. Long and varied, with extensive intro’s and outros, ballads and straight hardcore, Deloused is a concept album (the first of many) loosely based on the life of an influential friend from El Paso. It follows the protagonist Cerpin Taxt who after a failed attempt at suicide falls into a deep coma. Here in a dream world he embarks on bizarre and fantastical adventures. Awakening only to successfully take his life.

Francis The Mute — Another lengthily concept album, this time based on the characters from a journal that late keyboardist Jeremy Ward found. Ward related deeply with the incomplete manuscript and began to finish it himself. The character names which make up the song titles are lifted directly from this journal. This may be the most obtuse record I’ve ever listened to. I’m trying to imagine what the reaction from the label execs was upon first listen. Three out of four of the first tracks clock in at over ten minutes long. The album is divided into 5 songs that stretch over twelve tracks. On top of all of this at least half of the lyrics are in Spanish. But musically, it has a lot to offer; from glam to jazz fusion, ambient to metal-esque, this is a dense impossibly layered album.

Amputechture – The first conceptless long player and probably my least favorite album, Amputechture seemed to lack direction at some points. The songs were mostly solid and though there were certainly moments of brilliance, it seemed a little forced . Vermicide, was the obvious radio single clocking in at just over four minutes long, while the next shortest song was over seven minutes. One of the things that bothered me a bit about this one was the heavy reliance on plug-ins.

The Bedlam In Goliath - Finds Volta back in peak form with yet another concept album. Probably anyone would consider Bedlam an improvement over it’s predecessor. Goliath, refers to an entity that the band allegedly contacted while fooling with an old oija board found in Israel, and the record is based on this Ouija board and the entities that it allegedly summoned. Many of the lyrics are come straight form these ‘alleged’ communications. The correspondence started out relatively benign according to the band, but then became more and more threatening and bizarre. Ominous things began happening, audio files disappeared, a studio was flooded and an engineer cracked up. Finally Omar decided to destroy the thing and bury it so it would no longer cause trouble.

It's hard to imagine a current band in rock music that is more polarizing than The Mars Volta. On one side the taste makers- bloggers, pitchfork folks, etc.; on the other legions of fans, many of them younger who just appreciate a band that rocks live. And I’m of the mind that one shouldn’t completely write them off until actually witnessing them perform.

Although I can see where detractors are coming from when they accuse TMV of being overblown, self-indulgant, proggy, wanksters; I think we can all agree that they are kick-ass musicians and, I for one appreciate their blatant over the top excess for what it is- the key word here being blatant. They never really claimed to be anything else. When i look at TMV, I see talented musicians signed to a major label, making the music that they want to make, regardless of how it's received. Few acts these days can pull off such a feat.

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