THE MARS VOLTA – Octahedron (2009)

The Mars Volta - Octahedron Back in 2008, I kicked this blog off on a crotchety note by reviewing The Mars Volta’s The Bedlam In Goliath; my words were less than kind. Given the aimless nature of that album (coupled with that of Amputechture, and roughly 35 minutes of Frances The Mute), I fully expected to hate Octahedron, and so I anticipated it with an odd mix of anxiousness and hostility. Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered that Octahedron is the sanest, most compelling collection of music they’ve released since their 2003 debut, De-Loused In The Comatorium.

Whereas Amputechture and The Bedlam In Goliath seemed exist merely to revel and celebrate the excesses of prog (and therefore, to not reap anything by utilizing them with so little direction/discretion), Octahedron is a musical breath of fresh air; it creates its atmospheres through carefully-orchestrated drifts and breezes of sound, instead of constantly churning the same heady whirlwind in circles for 75 minutes. And speaking of, Octahedron is the shortest Mars Volta album to date, clocking in at only 50 minutes – their newfound musical directness results in an album that is remarkably tangible, and wouldn’t you know it, tangibility in this case equates to enjoyability.

The album features many songs that are more minimal in their aims (such as Copernicus, a somewhat eerie but strangely beautiful ballad of sorts), and it’s great to hear the band devote more time to their contemplative side. Of course, lest you think the album is devoid of all signs of prog, you’d be mistaken; Cotopaxi packs plenty of polyrhythms and guitar cacophony in its three minutes, and it’s not just haphazardly thrown out into the ether, as was the case on pretty much every song the band have written since 2006. No, the madness here is structured, and the difference between Cotopaxi and something like, say, Wax Simulacra (from Bedlam) is the difference between spilling a dozen paint cans onto a canvas and a work by Jackson Pollack. Also worth mentioning is that the album closes with one of the band’s finest prog compositions to date, Luciforms. The song emerges out of nothingness and slowly builds to a cerebral, omni-instrument freakout. It’s brilliant, frightening, glorious, and a perfect way to send the album off.

Perhaps it’s not so unusual that the moment The Mars Volta stop trying to impress you with their (undeniable) technical prowess and their steadfast devotion to defying modern musical norms, is the exact moment when they’re most likely to reach you. For my part, I hope that Octahedron is not a one-off anomaly (the band have been touting it as their “acoustic” album, a claim both dubious and a little more difficult to refute than perhaps it should be), but rather, the sound of an ensemble regaining their footing.

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One Response to “THE MARS VOLTA – Octahedron (2009)”

  1. […] course now, The Mars Volta have redeemed themselves (hopefully, their redemption isn’t temporary), so would my fervent interest in The […]

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