Listen to "Viscera Eyes" with Windows Media or Real Media
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. If the name is not setting off your internal "Music Alert," then you best go get yourself checked out because something is broken. As producer, guitarist, musical genius, and co-founder of The Mars Volta, Omar has established himself as one of the most important artists of the past decade. Few musicians ever scratch the surface of stardom, Omar and his platonic musical soul mate, singer/lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, have scratched it twice in six years. At the crest of their rising stock with indie-emo-punk band At the Drive-In, Omar and Cedric split to form The Mars Volta, a band they could call their own and be as long-winded, self-indulgent, and crazy as their little brown hearts desired. But the type and extent of artistic excellence being displayed by Omar does not rest solely on confidence, balls, and talent; it takes vision. Not only has Omar developed a unique, psych-rock guitar style built around strange bunches of notes, liberal use of effects pedals, and a heavy dose of his hard-Latin upbringing, but by taking full control of producing the band's third full-length, Amputechture (available September 12th on Universal), Omar has elevated himself from inspirational musician to Artistic Visionary. Omar has dabbled in production all along. He co-produced the Volta's 2003 debut De-Loused in the Comatorium with Rick Rubin – an experience he found stifling. Yeah, you heard me - he found working with Rubin, one of the most unconventional, relaxed, and respected producers in the game, stifling, which led to full control being taken for 2005's sophomore release, Frances The Mute. As insanely good as both records are, with Amputechture Omar has outdone himself.
Example: Although Omar is beyond capable of crushing any of the guitar parts on Amputechture (proof being both of the live shows I've witnessed on this past tour), he enlisted longtime collaborator and Red Hot Chili Pepper guitarist John Frusciante to play almost all of the guitar parts in the studio. Minutes before they would record, Frusciante would be sitting on the sidewalk with Omar learning the guitar segments he was supposed to play for the session. They'd cut the dirty, nasty guitar madness (see "Viscera Eyes," "Meccamputechture," "Tetragrammaton") to Omar's liking and move onto the next part, bringing in Juan Alderte to record the bass or Jon Theodore (who has now been replaced with long-ago Volta drummer Blake Fleming) to cut the drums, recording each piece individually without the other band members or their instruments available. In other words, Omar had all of it in his head and knew exactly what he wanted out of each player, even though the other musicians had no idea how the often cacophonous, bizarre parts would blend. In essence, Omar refuses to be just another guitarist or bandleader. He removed himself from the mundane responsibility of playing the guitar and put himself in the role of producer and mastermind. Because when you really think about it, when handled a certain way, a guitarist is just acting like God, but the producer is God.
There are others before Omar who have approached their art with a similar sensibility and confidence (some called it arrogance, but being the greatest comes with a price), you may recall such names as Miles and Zappa. Both were far more than just musicians. They would take over sessions and conduct the music with the sole purpose of fulfilling their vision. Miles was at times known to work in a similar fashion to how Omar cut Amputechture, often bringing players into the studio and telling them to play a color, or to react to a painting. Zappa, like Omar, often didn't even play guitar so he could be fully in charge of the production and masterminding of a record. By breaking out of convention, Miles Davis and Frank Zappa created some of the most important and revolutionary albums of all time. Has Omar accomplished this? Time will tell. But history also tells us that it often takes years for the rest of us mortals to catch up to folks like Miles, Zappa, and Omar.
| Bixler-Zavala & Rodriguez-Lopez :: The Mars Volta|
Yet it's clearly not enough to just go it alone and make music based on one's vision, you have to deliver the goods. Amputechture delivers and then some. Similar in foundation to the Volta's previous albums, the dark, expansive tracks are built on a constantly shifting percussive ocean with waves of demented guitar and washes of effects pouring into your headphones only to be met by Cedric's heavily processed, high-register vocal-images of "Humans as ornaments" ("Meccamputechture"). But what makes the music so incredible is that just when it's about to be too much, just when your girlfriend is about to shut off the car stereo, it gives. The music breaks and the tension lifts, giving way to an ethereal space-rock guitar jam; or maybe a ballad of sorts such as "Asilos Magdalena" featuring Cedric's sensual, sexual Spanish and nothing but a tasteful calypso-inspired acoustic guitar and eerie organ behind him.
And then there's "Viscera Eyes." Utilizing a giant, stadium-rock hook and some bi-lingual bombast similar to Frances the Mute's "L'Via L'Viaquez," "Viscera Eyes" is the showstopper, and could be the band's best song to date. And while it hits the same nerve as "L'Via," it's more potent, a bit leaner, and just a tad meaner. This appears to be what we learn with Amputechture: it's still got that Mars Volta sound all over it, but it's more refined, more clearly laid out, a bit more mellow and melodic, perhaps even slightly more accessible, but every bit as potent. Although Amputechture is still packed with dark content and religious references, the story-book concept found on De-Loused and the personal tie-ins of Mute are replaced with a more universal look at our world. Or as Cedric told MTV.com, "This album's a commentary about the fear of God instead of the love of God, which goes hand-in-hand with Catholicism. To me, religion is the reason there is so much conflict in this world, and I think it's just so unnecessary to believe in this blue-eyed, white-bearded, white-haired God." With Omar creating the music and Cedric creating lyrics based on shit like that, there may be no better band on the planet. Every album moves The Mars Volta closer to stardom, and the beauty is they're doing it on their own terms. The Mars Volta are Visionaries; Amputechture is just further proof.
Editor's Reminder: Listen to "Viscera Eyes" with Windows Media or Real Media. Seriously, check it out and if you've heard a better rock song all year, tell us about it with the Comments Box below.
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