Review Summary: An upside is that the album name is really, really cool.Omar Rodriguez-Lopez
over the past 19 years has released or been featured on what is to say at the least an extensive discography of 44 albums, something that even R. Stevie Moore couldn't scoff at. Starting with singing on the debut EP of the obscure Startled Calf, to post-hardcore At The Drive-In, from Dub projects, self indulgent solo projects, and perhaps the most ambitious of all, The Mars Volta, a genre-defying wild, spastic outfit.
Omar’s solo career is pretty versatile in terms of style. You’ve got Calibration
and Se Dice Bisonte, No Bufalo
, both sound like a messy, electric Bitches Brew-esque album. You’ve got Despair
and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Jeremy Michael Ward
, both musique concrete projects utilizing field recordings and studio experimentation. You’ve got A Manual Dexterity
, which features a wide mix of ambience and soundtracky psychedelic tunes and even Please Heat This Eventually EP
a crazy, proggy, jazzy collaboration with the famous krautrock band Can’s singer, Damo Suzuki. But many of Omar’s solo records, including the latter-mentioned album and the mess that was Cryptomnesia
, tend to be way too cluttered, sound effects for the sake of effects, guitar wankery, and many of the songs tended to appear to build-up for something, but just end-up in a mess of worthless noise.
Very much like Octahedron
, Omar’s most recent set of solo records, which came out last September, were restraint. The playing style Omar utilized was less layered, less effected, thus letting the other instruments have room in the space. Marcel’s Rodriguez-Lopez’s keyboards sounded strong and had dominance in the mix, sounding almost reminiscent of Chick Corea from the Miles Davis backing band. Juan and Thomas’s rhythms bounced off each other and gave the material a heavy latin rock tinge. Your new girlfriend, Ximena Sarinana, sounded great on the live release La Suenos de un Higado
and even you were pretty tight on vocals on Xenophanes
. Though the musical restraint Omar’s band was audibly apparent by the time the second track on Xenophanes played, these albums still had the exciting, wild “Omar” sound. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Solar Gambling
Solar Gambling is almost completely devoid of Omar’s crazy, experimental tendencies, besides the occasional sound manipulation here and there, and the occasional cool guitar effect. In terms of riffing, Omar’s compositions on Solar tend to be hard-rockish riffs that make the ones on Bedlam in Goliath
sound like Megadeth riffs or his compositions tend to be more melodic, minimal guitar lines utilizing heavy delay. There are also a few tracks that are really short, that are ambient, somewhat droning tracks that attract some interest, but ultimately leave a lot to be hanging. While Ximena sounded really great for the live funk-rock on La Suenos
, she sounds more like the average Latin pop singer you’ll hear for a couple of seconds while flipping through tv channels. Her vocals are pretty much hit and miss, but if you do enjoy the dreariness of the individual tracks, you’ll find they suit the album quite well. For the rest of the instruments, excluding every now and then ace moment, are really uninteresting. For most tracks, you’ll forget the bass is even there and the drumming is beautifully standard. Marcel’s key-work can manage to add flavor, but they also bring the song down every now and then. While the songs are rather good, you’ll find they have this uncomfortable, elavatorish feel. Here are the types of songs you might find throughout the album……
A. Pseudo Hard Rock Tunes(With a Spicy Latin Flavor!)
Featured Tracks:Locomocion Capilar, Un Buitre Amable Me Pico
When you first hear Locomocion Capilar
, you'll find yourself confused. As opposed to Omar's usually progged out, neo-funk, hard riffs, the opening riff on this track sounds more like a Guess Who riff, ultimately sounding incredibly half-assed. This holds somewhat the same for Un Buitre
. When the verse comes in for both tracks, replacing what would normally be a vicious, rocking vocal track from Cedric, you hear Ximena's crooning vocals, which sound completely unbecoming. During the Chorus-Verse intervals, there are these long sustained synth notes that tune out the rest of the mix.
Unless you really, REALLY loved the Bedlam in Goliath
, these songs won't do much for you.
B. Melody-Driven, Minimal Songs
Featured Tracks:Las Flores Con Limón, Miel Del Ojo
The first track Las Flores Con Limion
was featured on the live album Los Suenos, sounded interesting enough, with Omar's guitar work completely based around his weird, ambient sounding guitar. Live it was a really spacey, decent song and Omar's guitar sounded more like a peaceful ufo then it did a stringed instrument. However on Solar Gambling you realize that Las Flores, while sounding nice and melodic, is a really boring track. For 5 and a half minutes, it's the elongated verses with Omar's heavily delayed guitars and Ximena's vocals being, well, Ximena's vocals. The chorus is thrown in their from time to time to wake up the listener, with it's pounding drums, but the track leaves the listener incredibly bored.
Miel Del Ojo
, on the other hand, is actually a really nice song. The verse is based around an eerie melody, with Ximena's vocals being rather effective. Marcel's keys float around in the background and sound very latin. The verse explodes into the chorus, where the guitar riff is a slower version of the Frances The Mute
title track riff. The rest of the song sounds much like a shoegaze song, the distorted guitar layers and Ximena's echoing vocals. Being a 6-minute track, Miel is kind of a let-down to due its lack of progression or change.
While these songs are certainly more rewarding than the harder songs on Solar Gambling
, they still lack something in nature. By this point in the album, I realized that I've been way too hard on Cryptomnesia
. I'm craving for that prog freakout, for something weird sounding, and unfortunately the majority of the songs on Solar really let you down when it comes to Omar's more exciting experimental tendencies.
C. Biggest Let Downs On The Album(Cousins of Type B)
Featured Tracks:Poincaré, Vasco Da Gama
b]Poincare:[/b] Poincare is the type of elavator song that you hear at JCPenny. Melodic short piano chords, tasteful singing in Spanish, and nothing else. This song is perhaps the most generic and most mainstream sounding thing Omar Rodriguez has ever composed. Ximena's echoed humming near the end of the track is actually quite pretty, but that's about it.
Vasco Da Gama
: The funny thing about Vasco De Gama, is that it could easily be a very good song. Omar could have easily arranged it to be a pretty, little dream pop song. But here's the catch; Throughout the ENTIRE song, an 80s synth is present and extremely irritating. The guitar work sounds the same as the rest of the guitar work on Solar, aka melodic chords put through heavy delay. Ximena's voice is very soft and beautiful throughout the track, but the synth just....errrrg.
D. Ambient, Experimental Songs(To Keep Your Interest)
Featured Tracks: Colmillo Castrado, Los Tentáculos de la Libélula, Lorentz
While these songs would usually be placed in “filler” category, they actually are the only interesting tracks on Solar Gambling
. They are short, similar to the tracks on Brian Eno’s album Music For Films
. If you are a fan of A Manual Dexterity
you will find yourself enjoying these songs. The unfortunate thing about the more ambient tracks on Solar, is that they are surrounded by the rest of the decidedly non-experimental songs, almost making them into relief tracks(unless you enjoy Omar in his more generic form).
starts off with beautiful, ambient, dreamy guitar playing that screams “Omar, make an ambient record you dick!” It appears as beautiful sounding guitars bouncing off each other, with reversed treatments in the background. The song turns into a drone track very quickly, with the sound of one guitar hold sustained notes. This also sounds pretty nice, though it’s the rest the song has to offer. By the time Colmillo is finished at 2:27, you realize that part of the song went on for way too long. Track is comparable to a soundtrack for some weird, movie sequence.
Los Tentaculos de la Libélula
starts off with slow-paced piano arpeggios and a heavily effected, textural guitar sound. It sounds very sentimental, very appropriate for a sad, dreary kind of movie. The guitar drones throughout it, and the track is filled with static sounds. The piano is very minimalistic, but the chords played are really quite emotive. Song ends in a mess of texture and sounds, with drones in the background to accompany it. This is the best track the album has to offer and is actually just perfect, in general.
Starting off with jazzy, sentimental piano chords and more guitar textures is Lorentz
. The musical upside is that there is a walking acoustic bass in this track. It’s not very noticeable but adds to the song quite well and works right along with the piano. Omar lets the piano and bass do their thing while adding gentle guitar textures in the background. Ultimately a very nice track, a sort of jazzy version of Tentaculos. It ends the same way it starts and is throughout the track, but in comparison to the rest of the material on this album, it’s one of the better songs.
Initial Thoughts Concluding Solar Gambling’s Pros and Cons:
One of the positive aspects of this album is the notion it suggests; you can tell(and hear for that matter) that Omar is interested in not dominating the mix and is refraining from tactless effects and overly wah-drenched guitar solos. The keys, the bass, any instrument has free space to make itself noticed, to drive the song.
The problem is they don’t.
While the drums drive Locomocion Capilar very well, and the piano plays an important part in the ambient songs, there is no virtuosity displayed on Solar. Forget virtuosity, there’s no personality
in the instruments. On past records, Omar has been surrounded by a thick, powerful rhythm section. However instead you are treated to a bass which a. Lacks any rhythmic ability or depth and b. Contains almost no melodic hooks, virtually copying the guitar. While there are little rhythmic stutters and cool parts in the drums, they lack the complexity and power of Thomas Pridgen’s drumming or the personality, groovy drumming of Jon Theodore. The only upside to the drums is that they fit the generic, dreary style of the album.
The thing about the instrumental work on Solar Gambling, is that it doesn’t do any harm to the music. Omar’s compositions on this album are mellower, less complex, and minimalistic so that there is more space for general atmosphere. While one may complain about Ximena’s voice being gratingly conventional, her soft voice fits beautifully into the mix, with the exception of the harder songs where she sounds extremely out of place. The rhythm section hooks and power are not present, because they’re not necessary. So the record is well-written in that sense.
What’s vital for Omar’s future albums if he continues pursuing this current musical route, is him learning how to keep his music restraint and tight, without making it anti-climactic. The reason why Deloused in The Comatorium
was it’s ability to exercise the ridiculous, the perfection of that Omar Rodriguez-Lopez “freak-out”, while remaining an ambitiously tight, well-produced, and wonderfully written record. Solar Gambling is just not fun
. The songs don’t build, they don’t explode, they don’t have any sort of change in dynamics throughout the songs. There’s a difference between restraint and watering down.
Conclusion: Bring Back Cedric
Anybody get the feeling that Cedric is the main reason why Omar’s music is so good? Whateva, I know how pumped he gets about making a crazy ass record, so ditch your girlfriend, get back to banging Cedric, and please…..keep away from conventional music.