Not The Mars Volta You’d Expect?
What was that then? What were they? The Mars Volta, as Pitchfork told us;
‘…spent its first 10 years defined by an emotive improvisational style that was both technically proficient and utterly chaotic, a self-described “free-jazz entropy” that felt wholly out of place on alternative rock radio, never mind MTV and the Billboard charts.’
So many claimed The Mars Volta as their own. Metal fans. Hardcore fans. Prog fans. They touched a lot of music, but it was generally frenetic, even when it was quiet there was an airless quality that was almost crushed with expectation. NME nail it;
‘While anger and hysteria were never far from the surface throughout the band’s earlier work, here gleaming beauty takes precedence.’
They’ve been away for a while and the return is self-titled; self-titled albums often mean 3 things;
A new start
An end of a band or a musical arc
A brilliant album that needs no title because the band is so sure of it *
So What’s Different?
Well, the outlook, but let’s start with the music. The Mars Volta has made some big choices here. Chief among them?
80’s Art Pop
Yes, Yacht Rock. And whilst it’s not like this…
it has a breezy, easy feel and it isn’t just me who hears it, Pitchfork mentioned ‘Caribbean Yacht Rock’; when the opener ‘Blacklight Shine’ claps along to a Bossa Nova beat and lays on the deck taking in the rays, it sort of takes the breath away.
That other musical feel? The 80’s Pop? Well, it’s on point and also Pop of the Art style – we aren’t looking at Altered Images here, more Propaganda. And so the full feel of ‘Graveyard Love’, electronic and eclectic, is part of the sound du jour. The more things change…
That isn’t all, Americana runs through ‘Vigil’, which contains the only 70’s feel, a poppy singer-songwriter touch, both these things are current too.
An audacity is present here too, The Mars Volta‘s only real Prog moments in the time-changing ‘No Case Gain’ are then most laughed at by the tasty bubblegum of the chorus. Beats Per Minute tell us;
‘This also allows for their signature shapeshifting focus to become a little more organic. “No Case Gain” is a very good example of this: in just under three minutes the song dances through changes in tone and genre, without feeling pretentious or overbearing – it has the gravitas of grey storm clouds, finishing before it falls prey to any urge to noodle on.’
And allow me to introduce you to ‘Equus 3’ (I don’t remember who was in ‘Equus 2’…) and this is a cavalcade of quality, Electro, Pop and a little piano Jazz Fusion feel, just because it can.
All this is pretty shocking and stupendous too.
Following The Herd
You may think this is what The Mars Volta is doing, with all those sounds which are so current. But it doesn’t sound like that, The Mars Volta sounds as though they’re in a giant laboratory with all their favourite sounds and a huge mixing bowl. It works because they believe in it, it works because they have the audacity, and it works because Omar Rodriquez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala have the talent to spare.
*yes, this is the reason why the album is called The Mars Volta, it is a definitive statement that never feels like one.
Whatever The Mars Volta do next, and it was a shock that they came together to produce this album, if they go away, this music isn’t something to remember them by, it’s something to enjoy now. This is The Mars Volta, but which one? Who knows? Who cares?