Bec

24
Aug 21

Omargeddon #23: The Apocalypse Inside Of An Orange

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I’ve been especially drawn to instrumentals of late; I’m certain that this is because I haven’t worked in an open-plan office for well over a year and can easily listen to music uninterrupted for nearly the whole of my working day. Lyrics mean way too much to me to ditch them entirely from the hours of 9-5, but I have found that it’s often easier to concentrate with instrumental music in the background, because I’m not being distracted by poetics. 

The key to an optimal WFH soundtrack is a very specific kind of aural wallpaper. Too minimal gets lost among the near constant lawn-mowing, leaf-blowing and hedge-trimming present on my street. Anything intensely vociferous negatively affects my attention span. What I require is the perfect William Morris print that balances variety with repetitious symmetry.

My search for the ideal ORL instrumental album led me to The Apocalypse Inside of an Orange. It’s the only one credited to the Omar Rodríguez-López Quintet –  basically a severely cut-back Mars Volta lineup sans Cedric Bixler-Zavala and with the addition of Money Mark on keyboards. It’s the third instalment of the Amsterdam series of albums written and recorded in 2005 when ORL lived in that city, an interesting collection that includes his first-ever solo record, Omar Rodriguez, and Despair, among others.

28
Jun 21

Omargeddon #22: Gorilla Preacher Cartel

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Omar Rodríguez-López song and album titles are some of the very best in existence, and it really doesn’t get much better than Gorilla Preacher Cartel. According to an early release schedule*, this was revised from the originally proposed Scrapyard Handshakes. Both are excellent appellations, and though I’m glad they went with the former, the latter would have been apt – APT!

If Weekly Mansions and A Lovejoy are like chronologies of ORL’s electronic music, Gorilla Preacher Cartel is like a cut-up method album featuring elements from no fewer than six albums, covering De-loused in the Comatorium, Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fungus, Minor Cuts and Scrapes in the Bushes Ahead, Roman Lips, Solar Gambling, and the aforementioned Weekly Mansions (by way of Tychozorente). As on most of his other composite albums, ORL is credited with vocals and all instruments apart from the drums. The musicians featured here run the gamut of the Mars Volta’s lineup, including Jon Theodore, Thomas Pridgen, Dave Elitch, and Deantoni Parks, with only Blake Fleming absent.

23
May 21

Omargeddon #20 / #21: ¿Sólo Extraño? / Nom de Guerre Cabal

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Since the beginning of his solo career, song reworkings and rearrangements have appeared frequently across Omar Rodríguez-López’s oeuvre. Samples and sequences recur on most of his electronic music, and many of the spacey instrumentals that featured on his earliest albums eventually became Mars Volta tracks. 

So it wasn’t a surprise that much of the material released in 2016/17 by Ipecac Recordings contained quite a few new interpretations. Nom de Guerre Cabal revisits ¿Sólo Extraño? in its entirety, although the song order has been shuffled around, and three of the songs have added lyrics where their counterparts don’t. As with other albums in this series, the remade songs on NDGC have simplified titles taken from the lyrics, apart from “Common Condescend” / “Nom de Guerre”, where the title is from lyrics from the original song rather than the remake. ¿Sólo Extraño? itself is heavily influenced by Unicorn Skeleton Mask, a record whose influence habitually pops up like a bad penny, if bad pennies actually increased in value the longer they remained in circulation.

17
Mar 21

Omargeddon #19: Blind Worms, Pious Swine

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Lately, the weather has been seesawing wildly through various meteorological events over the course of any given day, as is oft springtime’s wont. These icy, azure early mornings remind me of the Blind Worms, Pious Swine cover. Of course, the buds bursting into bloom on the trees will produce only boring-ass leaves rather than animal / human heads, like whatever this feather-becapped person is studying quizzically. Are they thinking, “Hey, I think I know that dude!” or “Do donkeys normally grow on trees?” It’s a dilly of a pickle!

The cover also challenges my sporadic synaesthesia in that although the cover feels cold, the actual music sounds warm. The first half is made up of punchy, indie-pop songs that all clock in at under four minutes; the second half is an instrumental prog-lite piece spanning four songs. The two genres might seem like an odd juxtaposition, but the two halves blend together via a gradually intensifying bassline which builds up to a crescendo set up by the magic of Omar Rodríguez-López and Teri Gender Bender’s shared vocals.

19
Feb 21

Omargeddon #18: Un Corazón de Nadie

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To suggest that delivering three albums over a twelve-month period indicates a slow year would normally be ridiculous, but for Omar Rodríguez-López fans, 2012 probably felt a bit like an old-timey cowboy actor (i.e. Slim Pickens). To give this a bit more context, 2009 saw six releases and 2010 seven, which in turn now appears positively tame compared to the glorious twenty-three-record bounty of 2016/17 as part of Ipecac Recordings’ back catalogue clearout bonanza. According to the liner notes, Un Corazón De Nadie (“Nobody’s Heart”) “was completed in November of 2010, and then sat in the wild strawberries vault until its release in May of 2012.” For material to sit around brewing for a couple years before becoming available isn’t unusual for ORL records, but for all of the releases in a given year to have a unifying genre, in this case electronica, certainly is.

Both Wikipedia and contemporaneous reviews refer to Un Corazón De Nadie as the first in a trilogy of electronica-influenced albums, followed by Saber, Querer, Osar y Callar and Octopus Kool Aid. The production is coarse, rather than the cotton-wool fuzziness present on other effects-laden, synthy, mid-era ORL records. It too is drenched with effects but is comparatively more polished – somewhere between Tychozorente and Unicorn Skeleton Mask. Songs are a lyrical mix of Spanish and English, interspersed with instrumental segues as is usual for his electronic music. This collage-y nature is also reflected in the cover art, a photo composition done by his mother (and possibly featuring her holding baby Omar), who passed away the year of this release.

30
Oct 20

Omargeddon #17: A Lovejoy

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Unlike several other Omar Rodríguez-López albums, the contents of A Lovejoy are accurately reflected by its cover. The bright colours, glitzy lights and disco font signpost a collection of infectiously catchy dance tracks, so despite the name, there are no weird curve balls concept-wise about Ian McShane’s mystery-solving antiques dealer and/or Springfield’s resident pastor.

Spotify has a lot of obvious moral failures, as well as, I’m coming to realise, vexing technical issues. I’ve accepted randomly vanishing tunes, because at least that can be somewhat explained by label interference or artist whimsy. However, I was recently stumped by the realisation that their version of A Lovejoy is both incomplete and inaccurate. The final song is given as “Tlaquepaque”, which is indeed correct, but what you hear is in fact the song “Left For Dead”, which doesn’t appear on the track list, meaning “Tlaquepaque” isn’t there at all. At first, I found this extremely irritating, but I suppose it means that I got a bonus ORL song this year that I wasn’t expecting, and it also prompted me to push the purchase of this album up my current Bandcamp queue. You could argue that I should have bought these albums years ago, but I’m doing it now, so kiss my ass.

21
Sep 20

Omargeddon #16: Cizaña de los Amores

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I joined last.fm in 2007 because I’d seen some of my friends use it to tag their LiveJournal entries with the song they were currently listening to and thought this was a pretty boss idea. But I soon realised that as far as I was concerned, its primary feature was the radio stream (which has since either disappeared or has been made a premium feature). I’d play it solidly as work* background music and appreciated the mix of 95% stuff I knew and liked and 5% random shit. At the time, I couldn’t possibly imagine anyone being interested in viewing my profile and so had no hesitation in publicly sharing my listening data. Then, after many enthusiastic years of scrobbling, I logged out in the summer of 2018 and haven’t been back since. This is largely due to this project, because seeing in black and white how often I listened to the same albums over and over in a short span of time made me cringe.

I had a similar amount of embarrassment at the end of last year when Spotify generated a slideshow of 2019’s top artists/songs, and I genuinely worried that if someone were to analyse that information, they’d conclude that I should be placed in some kind of a home. This weird and pointless self-shaming has certainly motivated me to seek out more new music this year, but in my heart of hearts, I know I’ll always find a lot of comfort in a select playlist of firm favourites played incessantly. I’ve previously likened it to being a small child who wants to hear the same bedtime story for months on end, and now more than ever, I just want to know that the story ends if not happily ever after, then at least how I expect it to.

Cizaña de los Amores (“Love’s Tares” and “Love’s Darnel” have both been offered up by machine translations) was recorded in Clouds Hill Studios, a location much beloved by Omar Rodríguez-López for many years now; his most recent release was also recorded there. With Ximena Sariñana on most lead vocals, an eerie digital collage album cover by artist Sonny Kay, and a psychedelic pop core, the similarities between it and Solar Gambling are fairly obvious. Both feature recurring lyrics and melodies that often blend into a continuous flow, and instrumental or near instrumental songs acting as codas, so the parallels between the two make me regard them together as an unofficial double album.

8
Aug 20

Omargeddon #15: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Jeremy Michael Ward

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To say that a new type of lockdown music has entered the swollen ranks of hyper-specific genres is clearly inaccurate, but I think it’s also safe to say that what is being released during this time has a unifying theme. I’m hearing a lot of frustration and powerlessness manifested as fear-driven anger. That fear and anger is sometimes passive, depressive, confused or hostile, but it’s always present, from exquisitely produced angstpop to rage recorded from a living room.

Recently, the Spotify algorithm overlord delivered me a song from the new Yo La Tengo album We Have Amnesia Sometimes. Recorded in the now-requisite socially distant fashion, it’s a dreamy landscape that flutters between smooth and itchy, existing in the state before unease tips into anxiety. Listening to it made me recall picking Omar Rodríguez-López & Jeremy Michael Ward to soundtrack my last holiday, chosen because of the song “Heathrow Waltz”. Back then, I did not get very far before switching it off, because it was far too similar to the airplane engine’s white noise and not at all conducive to the state of beach-soaked relaxation I was geeing up to.

I thought I’d give it another shot, since oppressive, droney background noise is pretty much permanently in my head anyway these days, and out of a sense of duty/fairness telling me that I couldn’t form an opinion of the album without listening to the whole thing at least a couple of times. I was wrong.

11
Jul 20

Omargeddon #14: Un Escorpión Perfumado

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I recently reread Elena Ferrante’s excellent Neapolitan quartet with the same obsessive passion that consumed me when I read it the first time. It’s a sprawling Bildungsroman packed with evocative characters and slow-burn plotlines that, even on the reread, took priority over all other forms of media I could engage with. But if I didn’t subscribe to the well-known axiom that you shouldn’t judge books by their covers, I doubt I would have chosen them, because of the soft-focussed cheese that graces their covers.

Unfortunately, I didn’t apply this advice to not judging an album by its cover, so I put off listening to Un Escorpión Perfumado (A Perfumed Scorpion) for a very long time. It’s my least favourite ORL cover by digital collage artist Sonny Kay – the scantily draped woman with weirdly cylindrical, gravity-defying knockers makes me both side eye and eye-roll.  But this was a schoolgirl error, because when I did listen to it, the album proved to be both a delicious listen and very important to my ongoing desire to identify every version of every ORL song ever* for the mythical episode of Mastermind that I won’t ever appear on.

I found it particularly satisfying that these seminal versions were immediately apparent to me; usually I’m vainly trying to extract various hooky needles from musical haystacks. “Agua Dulce de Pulpo” (Octopus Sweet Water or possibly Octopus Kool Aid?) has since been reworked twice, first on Saber, Querer, Osar y Callar as “Tentáculos” (Tentacles), and again on Zapopan as “Tentáculos De Fé” (Tentacles of Faith). The remainder  of the songs on the album appear on 2016’s El Bien y Mal Nos Une.

1
Jun 20

Omargeddon #13: Infinity Drips

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Wikipedia has been a blessing and a curse for the Omargeddon project. On the one hand, it’s brilliant for stuff like release dates, personnel and links to interviews. On the other, some of the data is patchy, as when noting and linking previous versions of songs. Plus, not every album has its own dedicated page. But it’s a fairly easy way to find the story of the story of the album, whether that’s dissecting the concept or just detailing inspiration, which is particularly useful for digital releases without liner notes available. So I usually read up on the relevant Wikipedia page before starting a new review, and since I’ve been puzzling over Infinity Drips for a while now, I turned there for some answers. 

Except to my annoyance, I was given sorta answers and further questions confused with half-truths and gorilla dust. Personnel is listed as Teri Gender Bender on vocals and lyrics, with ORL credited with instruments and samples, which isn’t desperately helpful. It’s evident from the first listen that this is a project inspired by Middle Eastern influences, though I wasn’t aware till then that most of the song titles are named after Arabic words for stars. I’d like to know where the samples have been sourced, in addition to the Jerusalem field recordings used in past releases, and which instruments specifically were played by Omar. But probably most personally vexing was reading that “Azha” appears in “Happiness” from Unicorn Skeleton Mask and the first three tracks off Zapopan, thus rendering the table I so confidently constructed for Unicorn Skeleton Mask out of date. 

I find these elements nearly impossible to excavate from the cluttered layers of sound, so I’m not surprised this connection sailed clear over my head. On the first listen, Infinity Drips felt to me like an off-the-cuff piece that was the product of an afternoon working off the effects of a smoothie made from psilocybin mushrooms, absinthe and six whole nutmegs. Two weeks later, Weekly Mansions was released, and for a very long time that was my go-to soundtrack, so I didn’t listen to Infinity Drips again until I started this project. There’s a lot to be confused by but also a fair amount to love, and this is all due to the magically surreal power of Teri Gender Bender. It’s grown on me with repeated listens, and yes, I do love it, in a way.