Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Mars Volta - Nocturniquet [CD REVIEW] [QUICK&SHORT]

What's It All About Then?
This is the latest studio album from The Mars Volta, released on March 26th 2012. The Mars Volta are a progressive rock band from Texas, consisting of Omar Rodríguez-López (guitarist and direction), Cedric Bixler-Zavala (vocals and lyrics), Juan Alderete (bass guitar), Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez (keyboards and percussion) and Deantoni Parks (drums). The first single released from the album is The Malkin Jewel (below).


According to Rodríguez-López, Nocturniquet's music was written back in 2010 but vocalist Bixler-Zavala took a full 2 1/2 years to finish lyrics! The band describe this album as a turning point, away from the era when Rodríguez-López "dictated" the direction and musical content, instead allowing each member to provide a more equal contribution. This change is mirrored in the Nocturniquet's theme - the album is about "...embracing life for what it should be. There's a view of the elitist lifestyle - that being an artist is unattainable. I'm trying to write this story that reminds people that we're all artists." 


So Is It Any Good? 
+++ Clever, Complex Tracks +++ 
The album is still very much "Mars Volta" - the irregular percussive beats combined with heavy use of vocal and guitar effects produces a truly unique sound. The frantic, technical drumming and chunky but unusual guitar riffs combines to produce an intense and sensational sound - Molochwalker (below) is a good example of one of these tracks.


In each of the songs there is a definite purpose and sound to them, and none of the tracks could be said to be "filler" - each one feels like it has been placed at that particular point in the album to move the listener through the conceptual landscape as intended.


There is definitely a good flow to the tracks, with the "harsher" and heavier early tracks eventually flowing into some slightly more sombre but fairly gorgeous later tracks, such as Vedamalady and Nocturniquet.

--- Incoherent Noise ---
Sadly though, several of the tracks, The Malkin Jewel and In Absentia included, push this sound too far - they use some fairly "noisy" samples and arrangements, and as such can be quite unpleasant to listen to (particularly at higher volumes through headphones while on a train to work - I actually said "Ouch" out loud and got some weird looks).


There are a few of this type of track - where I have actually felt like I needed to skip the track or just stop playing the album. Quite unusual as I'm quite a fan of their earlier work. It is something to do with the way the distorted vocals buzz across a heavily-distorted guitar and off-beat percussives - it "peaks" at certain points to produce genuinely painful levels of distortion. When the volume is turned down the effect is much the same... though perhaps now I'm conditioned to wince when I listen to these parts!


This sort of track, like In Absentia, are a bit too "messy" as well - at no other time in the Volta's history have I felt that the drums were placed intentionally to offend - and just throwing some extra drum beats into a track doesn't make it more prog, it just stops becoming music - basically it just makes it a mess.



--- Somewhat Disjointed ---
It's almost like you can hear the inner struggle of the band at work in some tracks - guitar, drums and vocals all sound like they are playing different songs! It's hard to hear the cohesion between each of the instruments in the majority of tracks 3 - 7 (Dyslexicon, Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound, The Malkin Jewel, Lapochka, In Absentia and Imago). Generally this is because one riff or beat will stand out but the balance is always slightly off - and when the distortion stands out I'm left with the pain described above.


This lets the theme of the album down - this is the first Volta album where I've felt genuinely alienated by some of the noise they are making, and if you are trying to convey a sense that anyone can be an artist and express themselves this sort of works counter-productively. I didn't get the sense that the rest of the band had that much input - I'm sure the overall production was still down to Rodríguez-López, and the parts that the other members may have added seem to have produced a messy and off-putting sounds.


It's quite sad because the second half of the album is actually really very good, and it's only a few tracks in the middle that I actually can't stand to listen to. What a shame.


Conclusions

The album has some great tracks, many of the same vibrancy and technical ability as former works by the Volta.

The album is let down by some unnecessarily noisy tracks - distorted guitars, blaring vocals and brash drumming make a few of the tracks distinctly painful to listen to.

The album's proposed direction "the value of art and to open art up to the masses" is let down by this off-putting sound. Later tracks serve this purpose well, but you have to sit through 3 or 4 difficult and scream-inducing  numbers before you reach the good stuff.

Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
Any videos in this review are from Youtube and are subject to relevant copyrights. They are kindly provided by: http://www.youtube.com/user/TheMarsVolta
http://www.youtube.com/user/MrSolocrew

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