Review Summary: Bedlam v2.0? No, this is The Mars Volta v2.0
Its hard to believe that the Mars Volta released The Bedlam in Goliath only a year ago. It seems like just yesterday I was going down to Best Buy to pick up my own copy. I remember listening to it and noticing the immense change that the band has gone through since the release of Frances The Mute. Aside from sound changes, Bedlam was a hit for most of the fans. Aside from a few haters, the album received much critical acclaim, earning a place in the top ten albums of 2008 right here on sputnik music, selling over 350,000 copies worldwide, and even receiving a Grammy for the single “Wax Simulacra”. But when we heard the news about TMV’s new album, Octahedron, nobody knew quite what to expect. The band released news that the album would be solely “acoustic”. Then later down the road they released Cotopaxi, which completely stood against the entire acoustic concept, maintaining the same chaotic sound that was presented in Bedlam. People everywhere were expecting a sequel to the previous album, expecting they would continue down the path of their previous release. But with Octahedron, The Mars Volta threw a complete curveball. Bedlam v2.0? No, this is The Mars Volta v2.0.
Octahedron presents a new sound from the band, a sound that we have never thought we would hear from them before. There are a few sprinkles of the band from the past, but this is something that they have never performed. The album isn’t necessarily “acoustic”, as they would say, but more mellow and smooth. Some songs are heavier, but the only track that seems fitting into Bedlam would be Cotopaxi, which to be quite honest feels pretty out of place. It feels as if it was a B-side from their previous release, and just stuck it on their new record. “Teflon” does not follow along with the mellow feel too well either, being mostly based around Pridgen’s drumming, which isn’t as insane on previous tracks such as “Wax Simulacra”. “Desperate Graves” sounds somewhat of something off of Bedlam, but with a more mellow feel to it. It reminds me a lot of “Soothsayer”.
But aside from sounds carried on from the previous album, most of Octahedron stays with the mellower sounding Mars Volta. The album opener, “Since We’ve Been Wrong” sounds just like your mellow, typical prog-rock acoustic song. Almost like Pink Floyd with a bit of a twist to it. It opens up with a minute or so of ambience, and then goes into Omar lightly picking out acoustic chords while Cedric sings over it. The entire track is very smooth, and various parts range from extremely soft and soothing to quite intense. The same is heard on “With Twilight As My Guide”. It begins with soft acoustic guitar playing and ambient notes ringing out in the background. The track really showcases the boundaries of Cedric’s voice. His voice soars and swoops over the landscape painted by the background sounds and Omar’s light picking.
“Copernicus”, the seventh track on the album, is quite possibly one of the most interesting tracks that the Mars Volta has made to date. A lot of the lyrics that Cedric writes seem to be random words picked out of the crossword from last Sunday’s paper. However, the lyrics written here are brilliant. In fact, they even make sense, which is rare for The Mars Volta. The song is very ambient, beginning with nothing but Omar’s guitar, which seems to have a slight influence of post rock dabbled in, which is a genre we would not expect the band to venture into. At around the four minute mark, a strange techno-like beat even comes in. It isn’t often we see such variety of influence in the band’s music. The song even closes with a piano. How about that.
Overall, Octahedron is definitely a departure for the band. They have gotten all of the energy out of their system with Bedlam, and now they leave us with a fantastic record that ventures into the strange, ambient, and soothing landscapes that The Mars Volta has created for their fifth album. We get to hear the rare and calm side that the band almost never shows itself to us. Tracks such as “Since We’ve Been Wrong” and “With Twilight As My Guide” showcase this the best, with slow, eerily calming buildups weaved together by light and smooth acoustic guitar work, very little percussion, and Cedric’s astonishing vocal performance. Octahedron is not the Mars Volta that we heard jumping around stage, raping the drum kit, and flailing their fingers up and down the fret board. This is a completely new sound for the band, and so far, it is definitely going for the better.
Since We’ve Been Wrong
With Twilight As My Guide