Monday, 26 March 2012

The Mars Volta- Noctourniquet CD Review

Good afternoon all. When I started this blog all the way back in June last year, I was intending to focus on film/music reviews, with the occasional beer thrown in for good measure. However, once the Beer Advent Calendar got in the way I decided to shelve any plans to do music reviews and focus on man's favourite libation. Today is an historic day, as it marks the first of hopefully many departures from the beers as I review a recently released album. Anybody who knows me will be aware that I generally despise most modern music and the current music-buying culture of deifying glorified record players (DJs as they're commonly known) who wave glow sticks in the air and cover the audience in foam. I know there are some talented DJs out there so apologies to anyone who feels differently but it's simply not my preferred music genre. Also, the day oscillating sine waves and triplet-feel drums are no longer a prerequisite for chart success will be a glorious day in my book. Anyway, because of this I generally don't listen to many new albums, as hip hop is in quite a bad way (for example, listen to three Rick Ross songs and try to tell the difference), death metal is all about pig squealing and dischordant chromatic guitar runs, and electronic music is so distant from the likes of Kraftwerk and Cabaret Voltaire that it's almost unrecognisable. Despite this, every so often a new release will captivate me out of the blue, or I'll purchase an album from a band I've known for quite some time, and in today's case the latter is so. I've been a fan of The Mars Volta ever since I heard "Inertiatic ESP" on Kerrang! at the tender age of 14, being completely taken aback by Jon Theodore's incredible drumming during my most fertile years of study on the instrument, and every release since has built upon that fantastic template and taken their sound to new heights of aural bombardment. Despite the departure of drumming powerhouse Thomas Pridgen after the mind-blowing "The Bedlam in Goliath" and the comparatively serene yet brilliant "Octahedron", I've been looking forward to their new release for months now and felt it was appropriate that one of my favourite bands became the subject of my first CD review. The album's called Noctourniquet, and the review is after the pic....

The first thing you might notice, even before delving into the music, is the lack of Jeff Jordan's surrealist artwork on the cover. I didn't read into this too much until I started listening to the album, and then thought back to myself that it's probably to indicate the transformation they've undergone since their last album, and how they want to be viewed in a different light. This is no truer than on the first offering "The Whip Hand", with it's lurching odd-time beat, pulsating synthesizer arpeggios and restrained guitar work giving a feeling of trepidation before unleashing into a heavily distorted synth bass chorus that could make you forget Juan Alderete is even a member of the group. At least the synth bass isn't oscillating rapidly, I might just have skipped it otherwise. Cedric Bixler-Zavala seems to be the only unmodified element, alternating between disconcerting tenor and blaring soprano with relative ease. TMV have always dabbled in electronics before, but they were to create an atmosphere to accompany the more conventional rock instruments- this time round they're more at the forefront and are an integral part of the sound. There's also a significant trip-hop feel to some of the tracks, with new drummer Deantoni Parks channeling a mixture of the previous drummers to create rhythms that wouldn't be out of place on a DJ Shadow album (cases in point; "Lapochka", built on thirty-second note hi-hat beats with occasional bass and snare drum stabs, and "Imago", with plenty of gated reverb giving a pronounced boost to the anthemic feel of the track). Lead single "The Malkin Jewel" tramples from the outset with a gypsy-jazz aurora, complimented by decidedly menacing vocals from Bixler-Zavala and some well-placed organ work in the second half. One thing that might be noticeable from my review so far is the lack of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's name, which is purely because he's not particularly noticeable in his usual form on this album. His guitar work is much more focused and limited on the tracks, which does work but makes me long for the frenetic passages and unique riffs that he's come up with over the years. Regular collaborator John Frusciante is also absent, meaning his blazing fuzz-laden guitar solos no longer permeate from the speakers. There are a few tracks that hark back to the more traditional days ("Molochwalker", "Aegis", "Noctourniquet") but overall, this is TMV like you've never heard them before. It's certainly not a bad album at all, but it might be slightly startling at first to fans expecting another barrage of sonic terrorism. The best thing about this album is that it demonstrates the lack of complacency that TMV has in regards to their music, and how they're continually striving to find a new sound regardless of what is incorporated. Give it a go and see if it grows on you, I know it will for me given enough time.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

Track Listing:
"The Whip Hand"
"Empty Vessels Make T
he Loudest Sound"
"The Malkin Jewel"
"In Absentia"
"Trinkets Pale of Moon"
"Zed And Two Naughts"

Favourite Tracks: Aegis, Empty Vessels Make The Loudest Sound, The Malkin Jewel, Molochwalker, Noctourniquet, Zed And Two Naughts

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