The Mars Volta have carved themselves a formidable niche in the crevices of Rock n’ Roll, and their newest album, Noctourniquet, only widens the foothold. I have always found it an enjoyable challenge to be a Mars Volta fan: the music is sometimes too good requiring hundreds of listens before I fully hear certain elements, and other times there is a clear disconnect between what I consider their sound and what they consider as their sound (see “Tourniquet Man” off of Bedlam in Goliath). The nebulous of post-rock seems to centralize around bands like The Mars Volta, who at every turn redefine what it means to make rock music. Although the band has lost both drum heavyweights John Theodore and Thomas Pridgen, who both seemed to spearhead the band’s aggro prog sound in their own ways, Deantoni Parks and the new material have been well crafted, in that they do not try to pantomime the previous sound. Additionally, it was disappointing to me as a fan to lose the contributions from both keyboardist Ikey Owens and regular John Frusciante for this album.
As I start any Mars Volta album, I try to listen to it all the way through at least once without actually judging it. It was hard to not immediately throw it away as a child would, because track number 1, “The Whip Hand”, pulls a fast one and immediately starts with squelchy vocal harmonies and dissonant bit crushed chords. But this does not make me fret, on the contrary, the music only grows from there. And as predicted, tracks like “Dyslexicon” and “Molochwalker” pull back the curtain and reveal the true nature of the album.
The Robert Plant comparisons to lead singer Bixler-Zavala are maybe too obvious, but the album’s single, “The Malkin Jewel”, has a distinct Led Zeppelin feel (see soundcloud below). Cedric has found a passion in exaggerating the concepts behind the albums, usually molding his lyrics and themes to one central image, and this time around he has borrowed from the old British nursery rhyme, Soloman Grundy (yes like the Batman villain), and the Greek myth of Hyacinthus. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is a man whose brain exists in many times, not just this one. Even though this album is totally new to us, it is at least 3 to 4 years old to Omar, as he is constantly working on and shelving projects. It must get frustrating having to move backwards to then move forwards.
The Mars Volta are consistently pushing limits and making rocking music, which is success unto itself. Their sound will always be too far ahead for some, and just too far away for most. I guess I’m in the category that likes it that way. I always think of Michael Caine in Children of Men turning on his music comprised of gunfire and human screams and calling it “Zen Music” (its really Aphex Twin). One day, but for now, we have the Mars Volta. Buy the new album on iTunes or whatever other preferred method, I’m sure you know where you get your music by now.