The Mars Volta has always had a unique way of doing things. With Omar Rodriguez-Lopez on guitar, Cedric Bixler-Zavala on vocals, and whoever else they can happen to scrounge up to do some recordings or live reenacting (ahem, John Frusciante), this band still finds ways to steer clear of the beaten path with each release.
The Mars Volta of 2001 that had just broken away from post-hardcore outfit At The Drive-In played to a far different tune than the Mars Volta of today, largely because they’ve always been a group willing to expand their sounds through any means necessary. This ethos is exemplified once again on their newest album, Octahedron, in their experimentation with mellowness and restraint.
Before Octahedron released, vocalist Bixler-Zavala promised it would be “acoustic” and “toned down.” Of course, Octahedron is actually … non-acoustic.
As Bixler-Zavala explained, though, “[P]eople can be so linear in their way of thinking, so when they hear the new album, they’re going to say, ‘This is not an acoustic album! There’s electricity throughout it!’ But it’s our version. That’s what our band does—celebrate mutations. It’s our version of what we consider an acoustic album.”
It’s true—while there surely is electricity on the album (and a lot of energy), Cedric wasn’t off base in labeling this album a toned down version of the Mars Volta.
The American single and opening track, “Since We’ve Been Wrong,” is the first song released by the band in long time that has a relatively small production value. As the three guitar lines focus on timely and sedated interplay, Cedric’s voice calmly utters some of the trademark Mars Volta lingo that doesn’t make sense to anyone who doesn’t understand the effects of peyote on the human consciousness (not that a lack of familiarity with such substances should be an inhibitor to enjoying the music).
There’s a point in “Since We’ve Been Wrong” when the chorus is ready to break where the old MarsVolta would have swelled into a swirling drum beat and hollering high pitched vocals that could wake the dead. This time, though, the band simply continues beating on, calm demeanor intact.
“Copernicus” and “With Twilight As My Guide” follow the same swelling-ballad formula as the opening track. Nothing seems to reach its breaking point, but the building tension presents an interesting resistance against the band’s old formula.
The amount of structure on the album is impeccable, especially in comparison to the epic, noise-laden nature of Frances The Mute and the band’s other material. Even in the album’s unleashed moments, like the punky and funky “Desperate Graves,” there is demonstrated restraint that works perfectly.
While some tracks may seem a little too toned down for their own good (“Halo of Nembutals”) and worth skipping over, the album as a whole is worth a listen. Plus, at a mere 50 minutes, this might as well be a Mars Volta EP.
If you’re looking to get into the band, this is a good entry point. It demonstrates their capacity for chaos and technical ability, but at the same time shows that with restraint and structure they can create something just as entertaining, and far more listenable. And you won’t find yourself sifting through ten minutes of feedback to hear this album’s strong points.
Head over to the band’s MySpace before the album’s release date, June 23rd, and listen to Octahedron in it’s entirety.