So people flipped out pretty bad when I said that Cotopaxi was a step in the wrong direction for The Mars Volta. Kevin listened to Octahedron a bunch of times, and BAM, review.
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has made a name for himself as one of the most prolific artists of his generation. Since 2005, Lopez has released around twelve solo albums and four albums with The Mars Volta, only failing to release one in 2007. All this talk of Omar. Why? Well, as we are so quaintly informed in the Amputechture (2006) book lining, The Mars Volta is “the relationship between Omar and Cedric.” The relationship between Omar and Cedric is back in 2009 with the relationship between Omar and Cedric’s fifth full-length album, entitled Octahedron. Front man Cedric Bixler-Zavala claimed Octahedron was to be the relationship between Omar and Cedric’s “acoustic” album, described in layman’s terms of course, as we all know how Omar loves to juice up his Orange amps and let the obscure guitar effects flow. It is notable that 2008’s The Bedlam In Goliath serves as the relationship between….sorry, enough of that, The Mars Volta’s most brutal and aggressive album. Octahedron is undeniably the softest album in the band’s repertoire to date, featuring songs comparable in style to tracks such as De-loused in the Comatorium’s “Televators,” and Frances the Mute’s “Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore.” "Cotopaxi", the song that is sure to be the album’s first single, was released on the internet well prior to the release of the full album. Opinions on "Cotopaxi" forked, with some fans digging the aggressive nature of the song that is reminiscent to songs on The Bedlam In Goliath; other fans, such as myself, found the song to be incredibly bland, nearly destroying the hype that a new Volta album usually fills me with. It was not too long after "Cotopaxi" leaked that three (if I remember correctly) more tracks leaked: "Since We’ve Been Wrong", "Desperate Graves" and "With Twilight As My Guide". After listening to these songs, all of my hopes for another solid release were shattered. I found myself questioning whether or not this album would be worth my time upon its release. As always, the inevitable happened, the album leaked far prior to its release date. Although I was not excited for it at all, I quickly obtained those mp3 files and got down to business, thoroughly examining each track, repeatedly listening to Octahedron as a whole. The findings…
I quickly skimmed through each track before I put my headphones on to kill the beast in one sitting. It’s amazing how much different music sounds from the first time you hear it to the thirtieth time you hear it. Naturally, as I skimmed through Octahedron, I heard empty sounding songs, with my mind only able to concentrate on one aspect of the music at a time, due to the fact that it was all new to me (for the most part). If you were questioning what Bixler-Zavala meant by Octahedron being their “acoustic” album, you merely have to withstand a minute and a half of ambience before "Since We’ve Been Wrong" takes off. The acoustic guitar provided by Lopez gives this track the feel of a classic-rock epic. We are slowly taken from verse to chorus to verse to chorus until the song builds to a crescendo and the full band comes into play. Given the fact that the band was going for an acoustic take of their usually aggressive psychedelic style, I’d say "Since We’ve Been Wrong" can be considered a job well done, but a job done in the most typical of ways. Just as the opener track bleeds out the ambience that it began with, "Teflon" kicks off with rock music’s hottest drummer taking center stage…..for about fifteen seconds, as that is as long as it takes for the rest of the band to work their way in. Cedric may have tricked us for the first seven minutes of Octahedron, but "Teflon" shows no signs of acoustic guitar, or any restraint. Omar lets his signature use of strange guitar effects take us into an alien atmosphere. The biggest accomplishment found within "Teflon" is the atmospheric bubble it envelops the listener in, which is a quality that I’ve come to expect from The Mars Volta. Aside from creating a world within the song, I can’t even come close to saying that this is a great song. There is nothing that appears in the song after the minute-and-a-half mark that deviates (hehe. Foreshadowing, anyone?) it from what is displayed at face value. Nothing can be said about the song’s structure; in fact, if Omar thought it necessary or appealing, I could see "Teflon" reduced to a three minute single. Onto the minimalistic (don’t argue it) "Halo Of Nembutals". On a side note, the way this song starts off and kicks off reminds me of Pink Floyd’s “Time.” Anyone else? Cedric’s vocals in this song’s tastefully written chorus provide the explanation for it being about 20 plays greater than the other songs on Octahedron. In the end, though, a catchy chorus is not enough to deem a song as great. Prepare for the next acoustic ballad! "With Twilight As My Guide" ditches drummer Thomas Pridgen for what might as well be a duet between Omar and Cedric. There is nothing special to be said about this song, as it is simply an acoustic ballad; not even the Mars Volta label next to the song’s name can make this anything more than an acoustic ballad. On a positive note, Cedric’s vocals are excellently showcased here, but I will get to that later. Once again, Omar lets "With Twilight As My Guide" bleed out the oh-so-necessary ambience. "Cotopaxi" emerges from this ambience with a BANG. For a second, you’d think you were listening to The Bedlam In Goliath part two. As far as Octahedron’s style, "Cotopaxi" is the odd man out. It is also the shortest track, clocking in at 3:39. Although this was the song that made me lose faith, after a fair amount of listens, I can appreciate it as the fun, aggressive song it is. "Desperate Graves" is next, and it greatly reminds me of a style that The Mars Volta would have worked with back in the Tremulant – De-loused days. I haven’t said much about Omar’s guitar playing thus far, so I will admit that there are some interesting licks in this song. As far as songwriting goes, I think I have made it clear that I was not impressed, but I also realize that a song doesn’t need a complex structure to be great. Having said that, "Desperate Graves" can be a fun song to groove to, once again featuring a catchy chorus. 'Copernicus" is, in a way, like "Televators", a single from the band’s debut album. It features the mighty duo at their best on Octahedron. The band even ventures into unknown waters with "Copernicus" as there is an entirely electronic bit in the middle, which, I might add, enhances the song greatly. The classy piano bits scattered throughout are also noteworthy. Cedric’s lush vocals and the new electronic bit make for a fine song, something that has not been so easy to say thus far. More ambience carries us into the most interesting song on the album, "Luciforms". This is it. This is what I’ve been waiting for. This is my personal favorite. This is The Mars Volta. We are given the silent treatment for nearly two minutes, until bass player Juan Alderete and Cedric decide to spare us! Soon enough, Pridgen and Lopez come in and the song kicks off with an adrenaline rush that has been missing on every previous track. All of the sudden, the band is in top form once again, Omar is rocking out with his electric guitar, Cedric is wailing bizarre, paranoid lyrics. Everything fits. Haunting piano floods the melody as Cedric throws down criminally intriguing lyrics: “Gordian knots in the power lines, saucer fills to empty with pesticide, like the pharaohs of old, bury me in gold.” Who the hell knows what that means, but it sure caught my interest. The true testament of top form Volta, Omar’s guitar soloing. After the type of solo that he has programmed us to love, it is out with the new and in with the old. The song fades out for a while, before bringing back the same section of music used throughout the song. Effective way to end the album. The true highlight. Now that I am done with the painstakingly long process of song-by-song reviewing, which I hate doing, by the way, I can talk about the novelties, disappointments, etc etc. One thing should be noted: Omar is not so much the boss man on this album, Cedric steals that title. His vocal performances are top notch from song to song, without fail. His lyrics are as bizarre as usual, and will be interpreted like biblical scriptures, as usual. The greatest disappointment is obvious. You don’t acquire the most explosive drummer in rock music and give him a backseat role. I understand that this is Omar’s take on acoustic music, but come on! It would be very easy for me to rant about how it doesn’t sound like the usual amount of effort was put into this album, but who the hell am I to say that. As a Mars Volta release, Octahedron is a step sideways and backwards at the same time. I would label it as undeniably their weakest attempt thus far in their career. There are a few highlights, but that doesn’t cure inconsistency. These highlights are: "Halo Of Nembutals", "Copernicus" and "Luciforms". Who knows, maybe I’ll one day grow to love it, but until then…Octahedron scores a 3/7. Note that if a 3.5/7 were possible, I would award it the extra half point.
It was rated 3 out of 7 (Decent, by their standards)