Review Summary: "Noctourniquet" is music on The Mars Volta's own terms, and really, that's all you could ever ask for...
When we last left The Mars Volta they were attempting to display their prowess at a more acoustic sound, which later became evident as something not to be taken literally. Instead, it was simply Volta tuned down; an album stripped of the banal eccentricities that Omar and co. have been known for throughout the years. While said album, Octahedron
, never really appealed to longtime fans or newcomers, it was a conscious effort to find a sound less reliant on unhinged jazz breakdowns and self-indulgent guitar wanks. This has followed the band on their latest endeavor as well. Noctourniquet
, more so than any Volta album before it, seems like a fully realized recording by an actual band, rather than two separate members. Largely retaining the feel of their previous album, Noctourniquet
blends the wild and energetic sound that the band has become known for, as well as the more thoughtful and deliberate sound the band has been striving
With The Mars Volta's sixth proper studio album, dictatorial mastermind Omar Rodriguez-Lopez decided to try a different angle. Instead of controlling the recording down to every last minute detail, he loosened his grip and allowed for the band-vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala in particular-to have more free room to create its vision. It may seem like such a minor piece of Noctourniquet
, but in actuality it feels very much responsible for its success. Cedric absolutely shines here thanks to his new found freedom. While one would expect such an eccentric vocalist to go berserk and run a mile when given an inch, he actually shows a tremendous amount of restraint. Instead of belting out high pitched wails in a stream of consciousness fashion, Bixler-Zavala often sings very softly and methodically. But these changes have not only affected the vocals, but more importantly Rodriguez-Lopez's guitar work. Per the usual, the guitar lines within the album are largely used for textural purposes, hanging in the background to allow the rest of the band to do their on things. However, missing are the explosive and somewhat formless solo escapades a la
Omar. Yes these have become a staple of The Mars Volta, but their absence is all for a grander purpose.
Like every Volta album, Noctourniquet
is a bit on the bloated side. Once more they attempt to get the most out of what little room a disc has, packing the album with 65 minutes of content. And while much of space is filled with the usual creative and exciting fodder, a bit of it feels forgettable, and in some cases downright poor. In particular, the record starts up with "Whip Hand," a perplexing track that not only acts as an incredibly weak opener, but a truly weak song overall. Featuring strange electronic noises, Bixler-Zavala wails the same lines ad nauseum with nothing at all interesting occurring. "Lapochka," another notable track, is not merely a poor track but rather, simply forgettable. Its plodding pace mixed with The Mars Volta's poor use of electronics makes it breeze in and out of the listener's mind without a second though.
Yet these minor detractors take little away from what amounts to one of The Mars Volta's strongest tracklists. In stripping away much of the filler found on previous records, the songs contained within Noctourinquet
stand out as distinct and varied selections. Each track is a unique experience, and in some cases, some of the best material of the band's career. "Vedamalady" and "Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sounds," the album's slower and more "ballad-like" songs, are two of the most emotionally affecting pieces that the band has ever produced. Bixler-Zavala takes center stage with his stunning vocal range, and gives life and character to both truly beautiful songs. However, simply laying low is not the Volta style, and Noctourniquet
has its fair share of quickly paced, energetic songs as well. Boasting the band's self-described "future punk" sound, "The Malkin Jewel" is one of the stranger songs on the record. It's ultimately darker and mysterious, but the bold energy is impossible to ignore. "Dyslexicon" feels much in the same vein. Along with "Zed and Two Naughts," these two tracks offer some of the most explosive moments on the entire album. Cedric wails and hollers over Omar's fleshed out guitar work, and although it is generally more reserved than usual, it still feels like classic Volta.
is not the album many fans will probably desire, nor is it the master-work that will eventually sway the band's detractors. Instead, the album is music on The Mars Volta's own terms; an uncompromising venture and a bold proclamation that the band refuses to be pinned down. And in the end, that's all we really want to hear.