Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Mars Volta - Octahedron

This is another record I had to listen to several times to form a definite opinion of. It was panned from every angle before I even got a chance to listen to it, but we’re talking The Mars Volta, so what else is new. Having now listened, I can say that it will most likely due little to curry them favor with their detractors, many of whom will apparently never forgive them for ending the beloved At The Drive-In. I for one think it’s a solid record, though admittedly, I’m an avowed TMV fan.

After four albums of balls-out, psychedelic insanity, the guys have taken a sharp turn and landed in the land of swank, crushed-purple-velvet, prog rock. Latin percussive and freeform aspects have been largely abandoned in favor of a more straight forward approach. (If you need to fix with some of that familiar Volta mania, you’d do better grabbing Groupo Nuevo de Omar Rodriquez-Lopez’s new Cryptomnesia who’s spasmodic sonic outbursts are almost Turrets-like in their precipitous intensity.)

This is not technically a concept piece, at least in the sense that Bedlam was, there is none-the-less, a consistent thread that permeates this narrative however obscured by cryptic lyrical imagery it may be. Omar has said that “the main theme on this record is of disappearance: kidnappings and unexplainable things of that nature

Essentially a collection of Televators style ballads; about half of the album doesn’t even have drums. That’s not to say that there aren’t any vintage TMV moments- in Cotopaxi, which is as close to up tempo as this record gets, Cedric’s howl whirls around a twisted rhythm in odd time and in album closer Luciforms, we find the familiar sound of Omar’s crazed soloing even if it is over a song that sounds sapped of it's vigor by Volta standards- just that, generally speaking, they’ve cranked back the freak-out knob by at least a good 30 percent.

Although less frenetic, Octahedron is every bit as ostentatious and chock full o’ the kind of excess that will surely cause steam to issue from the ears of haters. Album opener Since We’ve Been Wrong, for example, kicks off with a full two minutes of one note synthesizer sustain. And from there, it only gets more decadent. The TMV MO is in full effect- that is to say these songs are fantastically opulent, unabashedly self-indulgent and more than a little unstable. In short- utterly over the top. However, Teflon with its chugging, fractured groove and creepy distorted atmospherics is as good as anything the guys have written in my opinion. I would say the same thing of Desperate Games as well as the glitch-meets-dark-folk of Copernicus.

So this is basically the sound of The Mars Volta doing what The Mars Volta does- i.e. whatever they feel like at the time. They’ve always taken heat for making the records they want to make as opposed to those that the fans/critics/etc. want or expect them to. Octahedron, which forms somewhat of a middle ground between the warped interludes of ambient noise and the full-on assaults of garish bombast, is just the latest example of this.

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