Since I evoked my Mojo phase in yesterday’s post, it seems only appropriate that today’s sheepish looks back towards old writing should present my most overt attempt at writing in that British publication’s style. Taken from my brief, happy tenure with Central Florida’s The Independent Journal, this review covers a unlikely blast of 21st century prog rock that–in a turn even more unlikely–I liked a great deal. It also inspired me to give it my best Mojo review section try, particularly when it came time to pile up quasi-arcane references. I remember being very happy with the results. And I still think the description of the album’s final track, intentional ridiculous as it is, is spot on.
When one of the chosen methods for introducing a band’s debut release is via laser show, you’ve probably got a good idea of what sort of musical territory will be traversed on that shiny silver disc.
The first full-length from The Mars Volta make the splintering of At The Drive-In complete. Jim Ward, Paul Hinojos, and Tony Hajjar were first out of the gate with their band Sparta and last year’s Wiretap Scars, but fellow ATDI-ers Cedric Bixler Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopex may have won the race, at least if the determining factor for victory is ambition. The Mars Volta takes the punk-fueled explosions of its previous musical home and grafts them onto an updated approximation of the sort of hard-driving prog rock that made FM radio the chosen sanctuary of the stoned and sleep-deprived some thirty years ago.
The record even takes the form of that most dreaded of seventies blights: the concept album. According to press releases, the album tells the story of Cerpin Taxt, who falls into a coma and gallivants “through the different worlds and planets of his subconscious.” I have to take their word for it, as Zavala’s vocals are about conveying urgency and emotion rather than crisply enunciated words. That’s incidental, though, as the deeper meaning of lines like “Dress the tapeworm as pet/ Tentacles smirk please/ Flinched the cocooned meat” would be elusive if Tony Bennett crooned them a capella in a lecture hall.
It’s the music that ultimately drives this record, anyway. There’s a sort of rock-show-on-the-edge-of-tomorrow vibe winding through the ten tracks as the band collaborates with producer Rick Rubin for a crisp, big sound that pretends that the last twenty-five years of rock evolution never happened. Or maybe happened very differently. “Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)” includes one of those moody, sedate, David Gilmour-ish guitar solos that used to signal “Big Thoughts Ahead,” and the full, funereal balladry of “Televators” recalls Led Zep during their emotive Ring Wraith and Misty Mountain phase.
It’s never predictable. Even when the album closer “Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt” starts with the sort of pile-driving guitar hysterics that made At The Drive-In critical darlings in the first place, it quickly transforms with a battlefield of electronic pops into some free-form meandering that sounds like Bitches Brew as created by Van Der Graaf Generator and finishes with the finest two-and-a-half minutes that Rush never had.
For all that, the album rarely plays as a pastiche. Instead, the reclamation and reinvention of the sort of rock that gave rock a bad name is so thorough and propulsive that whole endeavor feels amazingly original.