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This spring, many listeners will hear of and subsequently listen to post-prog-hardcore-whatever-rockers The Mars Volta for the first time, grasping Cedric’s wailing with their ears, and feeling the spastic tingling of Omar’s guitar deep in their stomachs. Well, such hyperbolic descriptions aren’t quite fair to Noctourniquet
; they’re not as aptly applied here as they would have been to previous Volta releases, at least. It’s not much of a stretch to say - including the material from At the Drive-In - the group has been more spastic and complex than, say... His orifice icicles hemorrhaged
or... Sharkhides that got tangled in the mausoleum
. Obviously, TMV have a knack for the erratic and turbulent. Noctourniquet
displays not a turn further into the deep end, but rather back into shallow waters that should be more comforting listening for many, with pieces of things like The ant hills of the dawning of this plague
only peeking through in various spurts and consequently making Noctourniquet
a record worth hearing.
When Cedric claimed the album would consist of 13 songs more simplified in nature than usual, he spoke the truth; and herein lies Noctourniquet’s
most outstanding and troublesome quality. It’s most visible in the frank “Molochwalker,” which reaches highlight-level on Noctourniquet
not by merit of insane and unpredictable songwriting and prog-wankery, but by straightforward melodies and pleasingness. If the infusion of simplicity is TMV’s manner of “ambition,” as I’ve seen it described, then the surprising aspect of Noctourniquet
is that it still manages to fall somewhere between their many previous records. It’s not nearly as messy or unrefined as Goliath
, yet much less epic at the same time. It lacks the ear-twisting guitar screeching and the abyssal, drawn-out passages of Frances
(notice the track runtimes), yet still falls victim to many of the same ills.
Among these detractions are The Mars Volta’s undeviating ability to kill any sense of momentum. On Frances the Mute
it was executed by the holes in-between the highlights, emptiness and sparseness; on Noctourniquet
, it’s most noticeable in filler like the drowsy title track or the meandering, plodding “Imago.” Thankfully, the tracklist includes songs like the dynamic “Whip Hand” that make the aforementioned sound like filler in the first place. It’s difficult to deny that Volta are at anything but the top of their game here; and most of all, it’s vigorous, it’s energetic. With interesting songwriting reminiscent of deloused days, every twist and turn down to the enigmatic “I’m a landmine”
section is both unexpected and welcome. It helps, too, that Cedric’s vocal duties are at top notch, once again reminiscent of the band’s debut record. It’s just enough to make one yearn for more.
Yet as always, the vocals range from the centerpoint that propels TMV towards epic success to the force that drags it down, as evidenced by the crooning in “Empty Vessels,” which falls handily into the momentum-killing camp. Besides aspects like this, moments on Noctourniquet
make it a worthwhile addition to the discography. The Mars Volta’s more tempered approach works perfectly on “Dyslexicon” and “Molochwalker” -- coincidentally two of my favorite track names by The Volta, as well. This pair, along with “Whip Hand” which seems to reset The Mars Volta to its default setting in many ways (even if it offers false hopes for the rest of the record), keep the record afloat among sundry minor missteps.
For instance, Noctourniquet
is not nearly as straightforwardly invested into a storyline as other releases have been; but even with albums like De-Loused
, you didn’t need to understand it to enjoy it. Noctourniquet
is still noticeably haphazard, though. The Mars Volta are at their best when they’re clinging onto some
touchstone to ground their spasms of insanity. On Noctourniquet
, there’s less of a touchstone as well as less insanity -- not quite as flaccid and formless as Frances
, but still lacking a definitive backbone. It’s directly because of this quality that the record, though containing a few of TMV’s most glorious moments and notions, probably won’t be remembered down the road as quintessential releases by the band like the status that (positively or negatively) Frances The Mute
and De-Loused In The Comatorium
A good record for sure, Noctourniquet
still lacks any defining qualities that propel it to be much more than that. Standouts are
standouts here simply because they are striking amid the tepidity and laziness throughout. The lack of energy makes one suspect that TMV were simply exhausted after pouring so much energy into Goliath
and, being recorded shortly after, Noctourniquet
suffered because of it. It’s exciting that the band has finally released an album with more power to be digested by the many than previously, I only hope that those swallowing The Mars Volta for the first time don’t get a bad taste in their mouth from what is most definitely not a standout among their discography.