When the announcement came that The Mars Volta were breaking up I cried, well actually no, that’s a terrible exaggeration…but I was sad to hear that a band that I had followed from the start and had seen live 3 times were stopping. I regret never being able to get all their albums on vinyl as they had great artwork – just too expensive. They were a contemporary, inventive, guitar nut vessel for an eccentric left handed sonic ideas man in a rock band that could jam, riff, be fast, slow, mid tempo noisy or melodic – and they were over. The partnership of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala had broken down for whatever reason. Perhaps the inspiration hadn’t run out at all, more that after 6 albums the band was too much under Rodriguez-Lopez’s contol – and he knew it. Or could it simply be a matter of time management, in 2010 he put out 7 solo albums, I got some of them liked them all but i couldn’t keep up, so how he managed that output I don’t know. He’s put out 5 albums in 2013, plus this album and no doubt more I’m yet to discover.
What’s interesting about this new band is that it isn’t all about Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, it’s a collaboration with Teresa Suárez aka Terri Gender-Bender from Mexican post punk garage band Le Butcherettes, plus the experimental drummer Deanatoni Parks (who has a finger in a lot of mass media pies from film and acting to production) and keyboardist Nicci Kasper who is in another band with Parks called KUDU. It’s a bunch of creative maniacs with lots of ideas carving out a disparate blend of all their influences effortlessly and together. The whole album is the sound of a natural chemistry. Vocals that fit with staggered guitars, incessant riffs, bends and stabs and a contradictory rhythmic complex simplicity with mood. Recorded in Germany, it’s somewhere between a hybrid and a new genre. I hear Siouxsie but I hear Fever Ray too. One minute it’s 1979 like a rock cousin of The Pop Group or The Mekons and then I hear a guitar driven rock band from earlier in that decade with a punk singer with an intense voice that handles melody and fire with equal aplomb. This is how Omar Rodriguez-Lopez himself describes it:
“These are very much shorter, more to-the-point songs [than The Mars Volta’s]. They still have spaces that stretch out, but what I mean to say is that it’s all the same influences that have been in most of my writing and all the people in my bands’ writing. CAN is there, Siouxsie And The Banshees is there, Gang Of Four is there, all the Led Zeppelin whatever… all those things are there, it’s just different elements of those things. You make it shorter. It’s stripped down, it’s starker. The very melodic side of Can; the very textural side of Siouxsie. You take all those elements, and you take elements that maybe you weren’t exploring as much before.
There are all kinds of influences in the guitar playing as told in the bands that Rodriguez-Lopez himself mentions. But it’s a palette and he chooses his colours wisely sometimes with effects sometimes dry as a bone. Where it all comes from doesn’t matter, it’s not about who he likes it’s about the band as a whole. The more I hear this album, the more I like it, especially the accessibility of the catchy experiments. An exploration into old territory that finds new ground and that is a success in itself.