Review Summary: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez steps outside his comfort zone to make an instrumental album that feels more cohesive, intense, and creative than any other solo album he's made.
Thanks to his prominent role in The Mars Volta and his extensive collection of solo projects, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has become one of the most original musicians in the rock world today. In between collaborations with big names like The Red Hot Chili Peppers and El-P, Rodriguez-Lopez’s solo work is overflowing with wacky guitar sounds and absurdly composed jam sessions. Compared to a lot of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s other works, 2009’s Old Money is much more accessible. If Rodriguez-Lopez’s vocal buddy Cedric Bixler-Zavala was singing, this could pass as a great Mars Volta album. Instead, the mad genius enlists a slew of past collaborators and band members to make an instrumental album that is beyond any of his past solo work.
The first track is easily the best on the album. “The Power of Myth” changes tempos like nobody’s business, offers distortion-laden mixes atop colossal guitar themes, and offers Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks going nuts on the drum set. Once the song reaches the ending run, Rodriguez-Lopez makes the guitar sound more prominent, while still being chaotically burst from the wa-wa apocalypse going on in the background. An ascendant guitar solo rounds out the mix, with Parks’ last drum hits echoing through the song. "The Power of Myth" works because it controls the abstraction, while still feeling new and purely Rodriguez-Lopez. It's a wild ride that surpasses every other song on the album, and it's only the first track.
“How to Bill the Bilderberg Group” features, of all people, Cedric Bixler-Zavala on drums, and his light snare drum taps atmospherically merge with Rodriguez-Lopez’s cat-screeching calls from his instrument. A slow burn, the song creates a monotony that instead of feeling drawn-out and derivative, conceptually signifies the feeling of mass production and by-the-book work life. The next song “Population Council’s Wet Dream” has some of the best guitar on the album, with the sounds crashing and waving like alert sirens and ex-Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore contributing his skills to the groove-laden (and effect-laden) song. The sirens back off into laser-esque guitar rapid-fire, and the cacophony draws into Rodriguez-Lopez’s heavier work on At the Drive-In. He can make his guitar sound like something from another planet, and doesn’t hesitate to make it so.
“Private Fortunes” is a slightly shorter track with a traditional feel mixed with what you’d expect from Rodriguez-Lopez. Erratically composed solos with some minimalist percussion from Rodriguez-Lopez’s brother Marcel permeate the track. With the atmosphere of a ritualistic séance, “Private Fortunes” is laid-back and much quieter than the over-the-top compositions of Rodriguez-Lopez’s past. In a similar manner, “Trilateral Commission as Dinner Guests” is toned down in tempo, but unlike the previous track, adds more distortion effects and less structure. That being said, it’s harder to get into, considering that it blurs the line between abstraction and tradition.
“Family War Funding (Love Those Rothchilds)” is a track with plenty of left turns, without feeling schizophrenic. Keyboard lines and an upbeat guitar composition round out a mix of tameness and chaos. With every pace change, there breathes new opportunity. Though it at first may sound like one of Rodriguez-Lopez’s trips down “whatever I feel like playing” Lane, it actually comes together quite nicely. The short tracks like “1921” and “Vipers in the Bosom” feel a bit like filler, but have atmospheric qualities and remain a part of Old Money’s cohesion. They are chances for the instrumentalists to kick back and draw up ambiance instead of run riot through tempos and integrate wa-wa into every single note. “I Like the Rockefellers’ First Two Records, but After That…” is a call-out piece, drawing back to Led Zeppelin-esque grooves, but with plenty of effects. It rocks a bit harder and feels a bit heavier than other songs on the record, but a stomping tempo stands up front alongside the repeated guitar ascents.
The title track starts out softly (think Octahedron-era Mars Volta) but launches into a groovy guitar-driven pace. It’s a bit lengthy compared to the other songs, but once again, captures a balance between weirdly paced absurdity and carefully constructed song composition. Don’t fear, though; the wa-wa effects are ever present, and the guitar solos feel right at home in an Omar Rodriguez-Lopez piece. Crushing and intense, the title track achieves a climactic peak that ends the album superbly.
Like much of his past work, there is a looming sense of lengthiness throughout Old Money. It, like past works, isn’t for everyone. Fortunately, the songs, despite being created during The Mars Volta’s extensive Amputechture phase, feel tighter, more cohesive, and much more fun to listen to. Each track feels definitive from the others. Rodriguez-Lopez captures the sense of early 20th-century capitalist/industrialist lifestyle from every direction, making the concept itself feel shockingly appropriate. As an instrumental album, it’s impressively composed, and you do start seeing Rodriguez-Lopez step outside his comfort zone. While other solo albums like his group’s Cryptomnesia have been riddled with tempo-less cacophony, Old Money feels refined and structured, while being just abstract enough to get his creativity flowing.
Considering that Omar Rodriguez-Lopez releases a new album whenever he damn well feels (and he damn well feels a lot), Old Money is remarkably composed. Its balance is exceptionally conceived, its instrumentation near-perfect. It may not change everyone’s mind on his stylistic choices of his music, but Old Money is a record that feels tuned and much more serious than others in his discography. Omar-Rodriguez-Lopez has made an album that actually feels like an album, instead of a collection of crazy jams with little structure. Though his jams are good, it feels surreal listening to an album where the tempo can actually stay consistent for more than one song. Old Money’s sophistication overshadows the few flaws it has; this is Rodriguez-Lopez solo work at its finest.