The Mars Volta
by Mike D'Ariano
the Mute is the second album by the Mars Volta, a band formed from the
wreckage of At The Drive In who called it quits a few years back. Basically,
the band is Omar A. Rodriguez and Cedric Bixler Zavala, and whoever they
get to play with them on a given day. The liner notes to the new album
say "On this recording, the Mars Volta is Omar A Rodriguez, Cedric
Bixler Zavala, Jon Theodore, Juan Alderte de la Pena, Isaiah Ikey Owens
and Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez.", and then goes on under the heading
"joining the band for selected moments" to list some twenty
additional musicians most notably Jon Frusciante and Flea of the Red Hot
Chili Peppers. Flea plays not the bass he is known for but rather, trumpet
on two songs.
This is a concept album built around a diary that was found in the back
of a cab.
I've already told you more about the album than I knew when I bought it.
I had heard they were good, and I had a ten dollar store credit to Best
Buy who had the album on sale for
.ten dollars. I paid the sales
tax and hoped from the bottom of my heart that the record was worth eighty-six
band's been labeled Prog by people that like to label things, and as a
result, the comparison they get the most, is to the kings of Prog, Pink
Floyd. Now, this is tricky, I get the comparison to Pink Floyd and I'll
explain in a minute, but Prog? Come on man you can't do better than that?
Once in a while things can be described without digging up some thirty
year old phrase to do so
.not everything needs to fit in a pre-existing
.but I digress.
Anyway, the band occasionally actually sounds like Pink Floyd, but for
the most part they do not. The comparison to Pink Floyd makes more sense
structurally than it does sonically. The album has lots of long tunes
that run into each other, it has some sound effects, and much like Floyd's
classic album, Animals, it begins and ends with the same piece of delicate
acoustic music. What the band is actually playing however would rarely
fit in Pink Floyd's musical landscape.
So who do they actually sound like? Well, at times they sound like At
The Drive In, but that's too easy. At other times they sound like, Tool,
and at others like Funkadelic, and at still other times like Led Zeppelin,
Gov't Mule, Jethro Tull (Name me another rocker with a flute and feel
free to drop their name on this list), Marilyn Manson, and Bitches Brew
era Miles Davis. And that's when they're not singing in Spanish, which
they do for a while on the twelve minute "L'Via L'Viaquez" or
when they have an entire symphony orchestra plugging along with them near
the end of the thirteen minute opener, "Cygnus
Those moments respectively call to mind other comparisons to the likes
of the Afro-Cuban All-stars, and any big rock band you've ever heard do
the symphony thing like Metallica, Kiss or Guns N Roses.
Now just so you know, even with all those different sounds going on, the
album only has five songs. Granted only one of them, go figure - it's
the single - is shorter than twelve and a half minutes, but it's still
a lot of ground to cover in just five tunes. None of the songs really
stay in the same space for long. They tend to jump from genre to genre
and when you're not expecting it they double back to familiar ground and
add a twist. It's somewhat spastic in a Frank Zappa, George Clinton kind
of way but after you get used to the water, it's an enjoyable place to
me, the albums' greatest achievement is its finale. The song "Cassandra
Geminni" which occupies the last thirty-two minutes of the disc is
mind-blowing. On the back of the CD, the song is listed as being in 5
parts: Tarantism, Plant A Nail In The Navel Stream, Famine Pulse, Multiple
Spouse Wounds and Sarcophagi. But on the actual disc, the song is divided
into 8 parts with no notation as to which part is which. The whole thing
is very late period Beatles, you know, confusing and weird just for the
hell of it. It's on this beast of a song that the band really starts getting
to the meat of what it seems to me they're all about - improvisation,
sonic flux, and a hook, spread over thirty plus minutes of chaos.
About halfway through, on the fifth track of the song, they cut the whole
thing back to just bass, guitar and drums for a while and then in track
six add a horn to make the feeling of Miles' most drugged out electric
work complete. Then out of nowhere the hook, and the ROCK comes crashing
back in for the end of track six and all fifty seconds of track seven.
Track eight (remember by the way that this is still the same damn song)
comes instantly back to earth, and in an acoustic Zeppelin-esqe fashion,
ends the album, as I mentioned earlier, mirroring the way it began seventy-six
minutes and four songs ago. Whoa.
So, I name-dropped about a dozen acts from all over the musical spectrum
and I still don't think I've quite covered the sound of this record. This
disc is highly recommended if you're into music that refuses to be classified
mean Jesus, the critics had to dig up Prog a thirty-year-old term that
basically meant 'we don't know what to call this' to even come close.
Yeah, it's a little weird, but so was "I am the eggman, I am the
walrus coo coo cu choo". All in all this disc is excellent
worth your ten bucks and my eighty-six cents.