The Mars Volta: Octahedron
When looking at The Mars Volta's discography, you can see how necessary an album like Octahedron is.
Ever since Frances The Mute, there's been something missing from their progressive-jazz madness and though none of their material was necessarily bad, it didn't stand up against the monolith of their earlier work.
So now we're onto this: their fifth album in six years, titled after an eight-sided shape (there are eight songs in total) and stated as being their version of an acoustic record.
New single Since We've Been Wrong (stop singing Kelly Clarkson!) starts off the fifty minute L.P, introducing and laying the sonic-foundation of what the listener should be expecting for the duration of Octahedron. Almost two minutes of near silence folds into picked guitar-strings and Cedric Bixler-Zavala's gentle, high-pitched vocals. It's haunting and surprising to hear such restrained and sparse melodies from a band who revel in over-the-top theatrical guitar-work and prog-rock lunacy. Yes it sounds like Televators from De-Loused... but it's good hear them back in that territory once more.
There's a definite acoustic air to the entire album and though it does feature heaps of electric/non-acoustic instruments, it's most definitely a 'Mars Volta' version of what acoustic stands for. The songs are fiercely conservative and hardly ever fall into the ''fog of pretentious ridiculousness' which they decided to cloak themselves with further on each successive record. Instead, they follow a more simplistic but just as experimental rhythm which flows deeper and more easily than before.
Cedric still seems intent on going overboard lyrically - nobody should ever add so much emphasis to the word necrophiliac - but when he calms down, it's relatively easier to digest. Copernicus starts slowly and hazily, with ethereal, echoing vocals and a distant guitar. "Close the doors, if you want to see her breathing again" it starts, sending an odd chill down the spine. It's initially a strange sensation to witness them hit these delicate waters but it's most definitely a direction we're glad to see them touch upon. Electricity surges through its second-half in an almost 65Daysofstatic-esque style and aside from sounding pretty damn awesome, it also breaks up the songs seven and a half minute duration rather well too.
You'll never be able to fully shed the collective of their pretentious skin - it just comes with the sound they chose - but this rebuffs the overblown extravagance by a fair amount and replaces it with a new-found sense of melody and moderation. Instead of six minute jazz-horns and tangents of nothing but noise, there's subtle strums and blanketed percussion. Instead of twelve minute guitar-solos, there are...well...four minute guitar solos. Basically, it's just illuminating to hear less of the spasmodic and more the smooth.
Desperate Graves is typical Volta and sounds like twisting prog underneath a sheet of insanity, swapping between a reserved galloping verse structure and an all out mind-fuck chorus. It's not too long and though it goes far, it doesn't go too far; ending before it becomes too repetitive.
It isn't jaw-dropping and yet it's something original and beautiful; Octahedron is a mix of both the old and the new and though it's unsettled in nature, it's good to see the band impress once again.