Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet


Vocals can bare many a differing of both opinion and importance between artists. Some consider them merely words as a conceptual accompaniment to the instrumental layers; others see them merely the crucial benefactor to an expression of emotion. And then there are those who see it as neither, and instead, strip all sounds of syllables, grammar and even sense, altogether. And if I find myself away from quoting the term Hopelandic, coined by a certain Icelandic band, then I'll most certainly be referring to the multitude of rock, roll, riffs and ridiculousness that is The Mars Volta. The creative nucleus of Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala have - for one year short of a decade - blossomed from the rocky remnants of At The Drive-In into one of the 21st century's most challenging and testified rock acts ever to grace our ears. Noctourniquet, their sixth studio album and their first in 3 years, is the follow-up to the slightly underdeveloped Octahedron.

Thankfully, the album is anything but. 'I am a landmine...so don't you step on me...' Cedric bursts out in a roar on opener 'The Whip Hand', a near-5-minute fuzz of thrusting guitar hooks and clumpered drumbeats, all lead along by Bixler-Zavala's riddling flutter of indecipherable jargon. Already we can experience the Volta's vocalist return to more somber and investigative territory in his lyrics, something which to me felt somewhat stripped on the group's previous outing. This is only intensified further by 'Aegis', Cedric first laying down the benchmark and then seemingly smashing it into a thousand pieces before a torrent of claims that he is 'not running away'. But this, of course, is fueled by Rodríguez-López's cleverly thought-out, cleverly-manic deliverance of stratospheric drops in guitar riffs and melodic chord changes.

But it's not all loud and heavy...and cryptic. 'Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound' demonstrates the duo's more somber approach to both lyrical deliverance and progression of sound. Omar's guitar playing here echoes with a somewhat magical fogginess across this darkening void, lead here by an almost mechanical marching of drums. 'The Malkin Jewel' in contrast is the bumbling swagger to Vessels' accomplishing draftiness. Cedric's waver between humble and jagged deliverance falls between the crashing and bopping of guitar and cymbal percussion.

Later tracks 'In Absentia' and 'Trinkets Pale of Moon' may falter - in a sort of sod's law de facto of track ordering more than anything - in comparison to the album's exceedingly strong opening half, the vocal work and often minimalist landscape leave for an interesting discovery into Cedric's vocal deliverance. The former works its bushy synthetic magic (and often, madness) across this with wavered results. Whereas the latter keeps the framework together with a melancholic organ work; synthesizer flickers reminiscent of something straight out of british braindance and a softly pluck of acoustics that give the track its haunting aroma throughout.

'Vedamalady' combines the two formulas of straight-out rock deliverance and billowing invigoration of sound, to immense effect. And it's only while we find ourselves floating amidst the rolling of drums and cornering guitar work working in unison to Bixler-Zavala's voice does the realization of this record kick in: this is a complete and utter realization of the absolute to the Volta's immensity in sound. Whether you listen for the guitar work, or you nod your head to the catchy beating of drums, or even sit there trying to decipher just what the vocalist is trying to actually convey, the truth is is that it simply does not matter in the long-run...or, so too, in the short-run. These are songs that feel far more perfected, far more than just improvised executions or mere rushed jots of song structure or lyrical deliverance.

And if there was ever a new aspect to be taken from this record and added to the band's delightful melting pot of short-term enjoyment and long-term return, it's the closer 'Zed And Two Naughts'. What starts off as a sizzling acidity of sequencers and vocals soon emancipates into something a lot more liberating and assertive. Even as the more rock-leniant sounds begin to take control, the worming of the track's electronic backbone keeps them from being diluted with deranged riffs.

True, synthetic sounds aren't something new or original the band - or any band for that matter - have decided to add to the ever-piling foray of composite sounds, but as is proven throughout this thirteen-track record, 'Noctourniquet' stands tall as a provence of impactive sound that both invigorates and provokes in as equal measure. Where previous albums such as De-Loused...heck, even Amputechture too, signaled the Volta's well-deserved credibility and importance as a band with big ideas and bigger executions, their sixth deliverance of these mindsets feel, as a result, more fulfilling than any that have come before it.
~Jordan

8.4

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