Bec

3
Apr 22

Omargeddon #29: Xenophanes

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Despite the fact that I haven’t listened to an actual, physical CD in many years, a select few hold an almost talismanic power over me. Unfortunately, after various flat-decantings over the years, my once-alphabetised CD collection has become considerably un-Kondo-ed; after the last one, I realised to my dismay that I cannot currently locate Old Money. This is fine; I’ve bought it from Bandcamp because of the very real possibility that it might randomly vanish off Spotify, but I did a little cry anyway. I hate losing shit, and I wouldn’t have donated it to the chazza, so it must be some-fucking-where, and I really need to know where it is, dammit! 

It also happens to be part of what I consider to be the musical holy trinity of Omar Rodríguez-López albums: Old Money, Cryptomnesia, and Xenophanes. They have a particularly cherished place in my heart because they were the first ORL solo albums I ever heard and marked the beginning of my ongoing love affair with his music. It’s also worth noting that all three were gifts from top-quality human and my partner-in-silliness, Glynnis. 

I’ve been dying to gas on about Xenophanes since I started this project but found myself continually kicking it into the long grass. Like Cryptomnesia, this is another Mars Volta-down-another-pant-leg-of-the-Trousers-of-Time album (even Thomas Pridgen, who was the Mars Volta’s drummer at the time, assumed he was recording for that band). Also like Cryptomnesia, it’s very dense, with layers I’m still parsing through after more than a decade. But I hadn’t realised until fairly recently that it’s also a concept album. And what a concept!

16
Jan 22

Omargeddon #28: Minor Cuts and Scrapes in the Bushes Ahead

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There comes an inevitable moment during every long, pointless passion project when a person begins to seriously question why it seemed like such a good idea. I passed this point during the first lockdown, when, like many others, I was both fascinated and horrified by the seemingly constant stream of images showing previously busy and now totally abandoned locales and watching the daily statistics increase exponentially. I was also job-hunting during this time, which is never fun at the best of times, and all I could think of to distract and cheer myself up was the utter pointlessness of Omargeddon. I concluded that the said pointlessness of the project was actually very the reason for doing it and powered on. And then probably bought more scented candles from Etsy. 

The source of my power is like a delusional Prius that runs on a battery charged by magical thinking and is propelled with the petrol of bloody-mindedness. Magical thinking dictates that the closer I get to finishing, the more new material will surface. As The Clouds Hill Tapes came out in 2020, it gives me hope that there will be something new this year. As for bloody-mindedness, I’m convinced this mindset has fuelled most things great and small and that this is actually a virtue. 

And whilst sometimes nearing the finish line feels more like a stick than a carrot, it does help to cross Minor Cuts and Scrapes in the Bushes Ahead off the list. It’s the last of the ‘extremely difficult’ albums – that is, the ones that hurt my teeth when I think about them and almost certainly exist solely just because they can. Presumably also, drugs. Lots and lots of them, and unfortunately, none of them were shared with me. But as of right now, I’m just over halfway through the series and soon to arrive at the sunlit uplands. Right? Yes! I love my delusional Prius! There’s room for a shit-tonne of emotional baggage without sacrificing passenger space (my delusional Prius is an estate car / station wagon, because I may be crazy but I’m still deeply practical).  more »

15
Nov 21

Omargeddon #27: Birth of a Ghost

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On 5 May 2017, I took another step into my fifth decade. The celebrations began with a massive brunch, the centrepiece of which was a ridiculous freakshake, because 2017. Then I met some of my chums in the pub and then had another restaurant meal for dinner. It was great, and I enjoyed myself hugely, but at the time it didn’t feel like a spectacular birthday. 

I’ve now massively revised my opinion, especially compared to this year, when the thrilling festivities consisted of a flat viewing that was eventually cancelled, eating a snack in the West Norwood Crematorium gardens before torrential rain started, and playing Animal Crossing for the rest of my life. Still, that day was itself a considerable improvement on 2020’s birthday, which was dedicated to a job interview followed by a counselling session. I did get the job, but you don’t hear me not complaining. 

To return to the memory of funner birthdays: 2017’s birthday was a corker to be sure, aptly soundtracked by the first At the Drive-in album in 17 years. I missed out on the 2012 reunion tour, but to be honest, I don’t especially regret that, since it was reportedly fraught with tension and ended with another acrimonious split. So the do-over of the do-over tour was itself astonishing, but the accompanying release of Inter Alia felt like some kind of a miracle. more »

26
Sep 21

Omargeddon #24-26: Omar Rodríguez-López Group (live albums)

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During the acute phase of the pandemic last year, I noticed quite a few demo albums were dropping into my Spotify feed. As much as I enjoy partaking in a kind of VH1 Behind the Music-style history lesson, I’m sure it was a direct result of musicians desperately scrambling to raise enough coin to maintain an existence in the absence of touring. This year, my feed has increasingly nudged me towards a plethora of live albums; it seems like every week there’s a new Pixies show available. Now that going to gigs is viable again, I find that I’m still a little leery of the thought – all that singing and close proximity, plus being forced to actually shower, leave the house, and speak to other humans. It’s all much of a muchness.

My last taste of live music was early last February, when I got to see Algiers at the Village Underground. And it was hard to actually shower, leave the house and speak to other humans back then too, because it was cold and dark, the venue was more than ten minutes away, and I was deep into month four of redundancy-induced unemployment. In a sense, I’d been prepped for the alienation and income-reduction caused by Covid for nearly half a year by the time all the restrictions came into force. That didn’t make it any less difficult or unpleasant, but at least I had had a bit of practice. 

Since I probably won’t be booking gig tickets anytime soon, recorded live music will have to do. Nothing will truly mimic the ritual of ticket booking anxiety / excitement and all the anticipatory build-up of waiting to see your favourite band with friends, but something has to stand in. Live albums suffice to provide a brief respite, like when for a few golden moments during a Zoom pub-at-home no one is talking over each other and things seem almost normal. Nothing can stand in for seeing the Mars Volta live, but although I’ve had that privilege three times, I’ve not yet seen the Omar Rodríguez-López Group. Luckily, there are three live albums that open a window to that experience.

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.