The Mars Volta – Octahedron

The Mars Volta countinues to astound me. More specifically, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez continues to astound me. The sheer volume of work that he produces is enough to make any musician’s career, and he refuses to be satisfied with it. Soundtracks, solo albums, Volta albums, side projects… this guy has some inspiration. Octahedron is the newest effort from the Mars Volta, and doesn’t fail to meet my hopes.

Rodriguez-Lopez’s solo work tends to be a bit more subdued than his work with Volta, focusing more on the guitar and soundscape that is being created. On the band’s newest effort, however, this sound spills over, creating a lush, but downtempo  record. It starts off slow, with a build over 90plus seconds, each ratcheting up the tension just a bit more than the last, until the initial guitar sounds take over, gently picked, both acoustic and electric, and then the vocal. Ahhh, the vocal. Cedric Bixler-Zavala sings each song with amazing feeling and emotion, his voice sounding like another of the instruments in the band, played to perfection.  He uses the slower tracks to belt out some soulful singing, when the record gets more intense so do the vocals. I am hardpressed to find a singer who has such an emotive voice in modern rock.

The instrumentation is sort of downplayed in these recordings; there are fewer Latin-influenced breaks, and as such the band seems to lose some of its roots, but makes up for it with understated play by Rodriguez-Lopez the percussion section of the band. Another reason for the record’s stripped-down feeling is the lack of horns, as well as some sound manipulation and guitar. According to the biography of the band on their site, the album has been made more pure than any of their previous efforts, paring the band down to just 6 members in studio. Rodriguez-Lopez also took a backseat in producing the album, choosing not to add every possible sound and effect, but rather allow for the music to create itself, and the new, organic feel really benefits the group.

In essence, this is the band’s “acoustic” album, in the sense of minimal production, and maximum performances. There are riffs aplenty here, so fans of old Volta need not be worried, but the new direction is a good one for the band. The guitar and effects production is as haunting as ever, Cedric’s vocals have just enough melencholoy to play up the album as a sad and personal one. Clocking in at 50 minutes even, it is the band’s shortest recording to date, not counting EPs. So much is packed in to that time, the album never feels short, until you realize that you want more just to keep the high going. Octahedron is a killer record. Not their best, but then again, it is a cut above anything else this year so far. 4.5/5

BONUS!!!!

Now that Volta has 5 studio albums, a live record, and 2 EPs, and some unreleased stuff,  there is enough material to cull a compilation from, and that is what i will do now. Their 12 best tracks, not promised to fit on one disc. Included will be track name and album, in that order.

1. Day of the Baphomets – Amputecture

2. Since We’ve Been Wrong – Octahedron

3. Golaith – The Bedlam in Goliath

4. L’Via L’Viaquez – Frances the Mute

5. Drunkship of Lanterns – De-Loused in the Comatorium

6. Viscera Eyes – Amputecture

7. Eunuch Provacateur – Tremulant [EP]

8. Back Up Against the Wall – Bedlam in Goliath [B-side]

9. Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt – Scab Dates

10. Francis the Mute – Frances the Mute [Vinyl Single}

11. Roulette Dares (The Haunt of) – De-Loused in the Comatorium

12. Son Et Lumiere/Interciatic ESP – De-Loused in the Comatorium

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