Album Review: The Mars Volta – Octahedron

June 23, 2009

Uhh...

Concept: Somehow, freak-out specialists The Mars Volta manage to restrain themselves and crank out a jam-packed, multifaceted pop-rock album.

Sound: Keyboardist Ikey Owens is the first thing long-time listeners will notice. He bridges every track, and offers much more atmosphere throughout the album, which is generally slower than the bands’ usual fare. Vocalist Cedric-Bixler Zavala’s harmonies just keep getting better, and he’s mercifully kept his painful insectoid upper range to a minimum. Much of the Latin and free-jazz influence has been thrown aside to embrace a conventional rock style, but there are layers and layers of melody to sort through. It bears repeating that there are a handful of exquisite, spellbinding harmonies lying in the corners of this album which everyone deserves to hear, if only through imitators. What makes this album a valuable addition to TMV’s career is that it cuts out all the extensive soloing, experimental rhythm, and atony which tears the patience of most listeners to pieces, so that everyone can appreciate (or at least investigate) their unique sound.

Lyrics: Over time, the band’s lyricism becomes exposed and tiresome. For first-time listeners it might hold some novelty, but it’s been much more guarded and just plain interesting in the past. The only intimation of a storyline or theme are occassional references to the devil, as imagined by Cedric’s mother in ‘The Widow’ from their second album, Frances The Mute, and an unnamed woman that sounds like an old flame. This approach sometimes echoes their earlier proficiency for surrealist heartache, but mostly seems like adolescent pandering; the rest is as addled and frustrating as the cover art. When vocals are such a key element of a band, there is no distraction or compensation against such a garish shortcoming. The lyrics cost the album what might have been resounding praise.

Quick And Dirty: The closest to catchy this band has ever been, with a little something for everybody and a few of their signature elements on the side. (♦♦♦♦)

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