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31
Mar 19

Omargeddon #8: Umbrella Mistress

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Back in the day, I had a very fixed idea of what an Omar Rodriguez-Lopez album should sound like. I was still in recovery from the rockism that had clouded and limited my horizons since I was a teenager, and often struggled to identify what it was I actually liked. Did I like or dislike something because of my perceptions of its genre, or did I like or dislike it because I felt I should or shouldn’t based on other people’s opinions? I really did waste a lot of fucking brainspace worrying about this kind of thing.

But I empirically knew what I liked from ORL, and what I liked was what I wanted and therefore expected – nay, demanded – to hear: lots of very loud, very crunchy guitar steeped in trippy effects. If there were vocals, they should be at least mildly distorted and preferably sung in Spanish, even more preferably sung by Cedric Bixler-Zavala. When I didn’t get what I wanted/expected/demanded, I didn’t like it as much, as when I bought Omar Rodriguez Lopez & John Frusciante all prepped to have my ears blown off and was rather let down when it turned out not to be the dueling guitars freak-out that I had assumed it would be.

Although you can never tell which genre of ORL record you’re going to get based on the cover artwork (particularly Sonny Kay’s busily detailed digital collages), it’s fun to try and cobble a message out of them. When I look at the Umbrella Mistress cover, it seems to suggest a hushed shh, don’t tell anyone Omar done a pop record! Because this is hella pop, and I wonder what my reaction to it would have been a decade ago. Would I have liked it with qualifiers, justifying it by defining it as indie/psychedelic/folk/country/power pop, not pop pop? Or would I have rolled my eyes and waited a couple months for something else? I’ll never know, and besides, the past is a foreign country populated by idiots. Even if I had initially dismissed it, this project would have changed that, because Umbrella Mistress is pure perfection.

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17
Feb 19

Omargeddon #7: Solar Gambling

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Since I started the Omargeddon project, I’ve been paying less overt attention to new music, both new-to-me and newly released material. In fact, my sole contribution to the FT Readers’ Poll was Janelle Monae’s “Pynk”, totally forgetting about the divine “The Way You Make Me Feel” despite nominating Dirty Computer as my album pick. This year, I’m making a concerted effort to be more aware of new tunes and have started a 2019 playlist to help me keep track. For the most part, I’ll be using Spotify’s Release Radar playlist to facilitate this. I usually listen to it at least once a week, and it’s been the source of several new musical discoveries, even more so than the Discover Weekly playlist. Discover Weekly too often labours under the delusion that I want a mix of metal and weedy indie tracks liberally sprinkled with artists I already know about and thus don’t need to discover. That’s not to say Release Radar doesn’t bring up its dud track – apparently since I nostalgically listened to You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby approximately eighteen months ago, it thinks I need a Fatboy Slim remix every single goddamn week. I do wonder how the algorithm susses out what to give me – did I get “Alpha Centauri” by We Are Impala because it’s given me Tame Impala before or because of the At the Drive-In song of the same name? I also had “Bread & Butter” by Horsey, though my feelings about it tend towards “neigh”.

However, I was super chuffed to get Ximena Sariñana’s new single “Lo Bailado”, a cheery tune that injected much-needed warmth into the playlist. It also reminded me that initially I was a bit hesitant about her vocal input to late noughties/early teens Omar Rodriguez-Lopez albums. With the Mars Volta still extant and producing music, I found it difficult at the time not to wonder how Cedric Bixler-Zavala would have sounded in her place.

Solar Gambling is the first Omar Rodriguez-Lopez solo release with Ximena providing lyrics and vocals. It was one of his six albums released in 2009, and at the time, it wasn’t a particular favourite. I didn’t actively dislike it, streaming it from the Rodriguez Lopez Productions website often enough for me to recognise quite a few of the songs when I began listening to it again more earnestly. Up until around this point in his discography, vocals tended to serve as more of a supporting role, and even with the Mars Volta, the music was written first with CBZ composing lyrics and vocal melodies to fit around it. Solar Gambling reverses this trend, with Ximena’s vocals front and centre to the supporting music.

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12
Jan 19

Omargeddon #6: Corazones

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There’s The Mars Volta and there’s The Mars Volta Group, and it’s important to understand the difference between the two. The Mars Volta is the partnership of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala, and The Mars Volta Group is the evolving lineup of musicians who support them in the studio and on tour. Granted, some of these musicians appear with such frequency as to be considered full-time band members, like bassist Juan Alderete, saxophonist Adrian Terrazas-Gonzalez, and percussionist/brother Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez. However, keyboardist Ikey Owens was probably the closest thing TMVG had to a truly permanent member.

He joined the very first iteration via De Facto and remained through 2011, when he left on amicable terms. Even for this constantly changing group – and knowing TMV’s history of restructuring the group by asking musicians to leave or by outright sacking them – Ikey’s departure felt slightly out of the blue. So when he joined Jack White’s touring band, I instantly thought: worlds are colliding, but in a good way! I couldn’t quite believe it wasn’t actually a figment of my fevered imagination. He initially joined The Buzzards, the all-male backing band supporting the Blunderbuss tour, and remained on keyboards for the Lazaretto tour three years later. In October 2014, he died of a heart attack, aged only 39.

Jack White/The Mars Volta worlds collide further on Corazones (“Hearts”). The usual instrumental foundation of guitar/bass/drum/keyboards is present as expected, but I think I can say with some degree of certainty that here is the first time I’ve ever heard harmonica or ukulele on any ORL release. His music has always defied genre via a giant sack o’influences, but here they feel compacted, resulting in an umami-like Jack White flavour sprinkled throughout. It’s very folky, like alt-country that’s sunned itself in the warmth of pop. All of these elements have been evident across his other work, but scattered over larger soundscapes.

It’s also a record haunted by bereavement – Omar has said that the main inspiration for the record was his mother, who was dying of a terminal illness. Knowing this, it makes me associate Corazones with Ikey even more. However it’s not so much an exercise in anguish as it is a celebration of love.

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15
Dec 18

Omargeddon #5: Cryptomnesia

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This is the cover art for the album Cryptomnesia by the artist El Grupo Nuevo de Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. The cover art copyright is believed to belong to the label, Rodriguez Lopez Productions, or the graphic artist(s). (for the picture description as per fair use terms).Most Omar Rodriguez-Lopez albums are released under his name, but there a few variations: El Trío de Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Quartet, the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Quintet, and when touring, the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group, (though Woman Gives Birth to Tomato! was also released under this name). And then there’s El Grupo Nuevo de Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, the least literal and most tongue-in-cheek of them all.

Omar’s “new group” consisted of himself, Juan Alderete, Zach Hill, Jonathan Hischke, and Cedric Bixler-Zavala. He may just as well have called it “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Mars Volta!” and in many ways, it’s the Volta album everyone was expecting but didn’t get with “acoustic pop album” Octahedron, released the same year. Cedric admitted it himself, noting “if anyone’s bummed that Octahedron is too simple or too pop, they can buy [this] album and it’ll take them right back to that [heavier] kind of sound. It’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever worked on. It’s pretty much a Mars Volta record, just without Thomas [Pridgen], Ikey [Owens], and Marcel [Rodriguez-Lopez].”

When I listen to Cryptomnesia, which is fairly often, I feel like I’m snuggled in a beloved, decade-old Fair Isle knit jumper covered with intricate, brightly coloured patterns. Unfortunately, it’s also very itchy in places, to the point where I have to rip it off and stash it away for a while. And then I remember how pretty and warm it is, so I eventually come back to it.

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4
Nov 18

Omargeddon #4: Weekly Mansions

FT1 comment • 122 views


I’ve been stuck in a funk of late. Sadly, not a George Clinton-flavoured funk, but a stank, stuck funk of my own making. My compulsive need to trace the original sources for all the revised riffs, beats, and samples that crop up in later Omar Rodriguez-Lopez projects has proved a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, and I thought it would be fairly difficult. And yet, I deluded myself into thinking it would all fall into place. It is, but at a frustratingly glacial pace, and I’m growing resigned to the fact that my attempt to construct an orderly timeline is a fool’s errand.

This is the album that made me want to track this path in the first place. Released in late 2016 on the Ipecac Recordings label as part of Omar’s 24-album back catalog catch-up, Weekly Mansions feels both soothingly familiar and brand-new. Many of the albums in this series can (sort of) be easily identified as a complete album remixed and reimagined; this feels like a bridge linking the more guitar-driven and distortion-fuzzed earlier releases via a silky thread of instrumental segues and sound manipulation. If this were an aural equivalent to a magic eye poster, I’d gaze into it crosseyed, hoping for an optical illusion of The Mars Volta to appear.

Dubbed “an eclectic exploration of neo-electro-dance”, it’s a totally guitar-free collaboration between Omar and his brother Marcel (aka Eureka The Butcher), which positively heaves with bleepy joy. I would fervently press it into the hands of all my friends, were a physical edition available. Such is my deep and abiding love for it that I rate it as highly as I do Old Money, and I do not say that lightly.

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26
Aug 18

Omargeddon #3: Octopus Kool Aid

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It would be inaccurate to say Octopus Kool Aid passed me by, but by the time I learned of its existence, I was too depressed about The Mars Volta’s breakup and too ready to blame this album for causing it. It’s only been recently that I’ve taken the time to appreciate its impact on Omar’s music.

Octopus Kool Aid features lyrics and vocals by Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes, and working with her on this album reawakened Omar’s appreciation for true collaboration. Somewhere along the line, they formed Bosnian Rainbows. Omar decided to put The Mars Volta on hiatus to focus on recording and touring with his shiny new side project. This royally cheesed off Cedric Bixler-Zavala; the two of them snipped bitchily at one another via social media, which was both unfortunate and deeply awkward. TMV’s hiatus became an official break-up in early 2013, and there didn’t appear to be any going back. Cedric’s subtweet “What am I suppose [sic] to do be some progressive house wife that’s cool with watching their partner go fuck other bands? We owe it 2 fans to tour” makes me cringe-laugh, but it’s clear that he felt betrayed personally and on behalf of Volta fans.

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25
Jul 18

Omargeddon #2: Tychozorente

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Last week at work, while creating the dashboard reports for this month’s round of governance boards, I was struck by the idea of creating an Omar Rodriguez-Lopez music matrix. The upper left quadrant would be jazz/experimental, the upper right rock, the lower left electronic/dance, and the lower right pop. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all ORL genres (salsa is missing, to name but one), but using a simplistic visual to map out albums will help me catalogue them, as well as guide me in selecting what to review next.

If Old Money sits in the uppermost right quadrant, its opposite on the lower left would be Tychozorente. They’re both early doors albums, and near polar opposites. It’s his first solo record with nary a guitar present and is also notable because elements of it appear frequently in his later material. The overall vibe is reminiscent of At The Drive-In dub side project De Facto, with a twist of pop via vocalist/lyricist Ximena Sariñana Rivera. Unfortunately, it’s also a pretty mixed bag. The tracks that work are like sweet psychedelic swirls of cotton candy, but they’re surrounded by clunky spoken word pieces that disturb the flow of the album experience.

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17
Jul 18

Omargeddon #1: Old Money

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Old Money is like a crazy quilt with no immediately discernible pattern upon first inspection. There’s so much happening, it’s impossible to take it on all at once. The riff-squares are stitched together with your typical rhythm section, plus woodwinds, plenty of added effects, and some more unusual rock instruments, such as clavinet, wurlitzer, and theremin. As in much of Omar’s early solo work, however, the guitar is the star. It’s the seminal ORL sound – ORL Original Recipe, if you will.

And you should, because Old Money’s rock-out guitar A swirls tauntingly around guitar B’s wah-wah, creating an ecstatic hurricane of beautiful noise to become swept into. Although it’s not his first solo release, it was the first I ever heard and feels like the most appropropriate place to start, and listening to it feels like coming home for me. It was nearly a follow up to The Mars Volta’s Amputechture and in many ways feels like homework for The Bedlam In Goliath. I’m reminded of those heady days of new fandom, that first flush of obsessive love. Though it would be inaccurate to say that it’s the gold standard by which all other releases are measured, it does serve as a kind of guitar-oriented litmus test, and I sometimes categorise other albums based on how Old Money-esque they sound.

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9
Jul 18

Omargeddon

FT6 comments • 235 views

I came late to The Mars Volta, becoming a fan after my friend Glynnis sent me ripped copies of De-loused in the Comatorium and Frances the Mute. I’d been looking for new music, and as I’d gotten her into my favourite band, The White Stripes (RIP), it seemed appropriate to check out the band she’d been raving about for ages.

I was vaguely aware that “progressive rock” existed as a genre, but apart from Pink Floyd or maybe Rush, I couldn’t tell you what it was supposed to sound like, other than it probably wasn’t for me and that The Mars Volta was grouped into this genre. They did not sound like Pink Floyd, or Rush, or indeed like any other band I’d ever heard before. They sounded like everything at once, when it wasn’t so quiet you could hardly hear it. They sounded like the ravings of a mystic spouting the mysteries of the universe solved, if you could only crack the code. They sounded like despair laced with hope layered over a bedrock of blistering guitar, insane drumming, steady and yet somehow confusing bass, and thrilling, rollicking keys. They sounded like the band I never knew I was waiting all my life for. I was hooked from that first sirenny riff from De-loused, and fell particularly hard for the enigmatic and visceral lyrics, and vocals I didn’t think were humanly possible.

In a way, I was glad to arrive late to the party because it meant I still had Amputechture and The Bedlam in Goliath to discover. I listened to the shit out of them, amazed that yes, even after several dozen plays I was still decoding the lyrics and still dissecting the strata of sound. I bought my own copies of them all and must confess that sometimes I do miss CDs, because having the lyrics to hand is very necessary. First, because I genuinely can’t understand a good deal of them until I’ve seen then written down and, contrary to Jarvis Cocker’s instructions, often read the lyrics whilst listening to the recordings. Second, because I am in love with the delphic, weird, often silly, sometimes disgusting but also beautiful imagery, and want to study the lyrics and work out how they fit the greater narrative. Coupled with Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s powerful, heartwrenching vocals, it’s a recipe for continual revelation.

I couldn’t get enough, and was both happy and overwhelmed when I learned that Omar Rodriguez-Lopez had released solo albums as well. By the time I’d realised Old Money existed, he’d already released seven albums. If ORL was a writer, he’d have published 15 books, all of them 700 page tomes. I have a lot to catch up on, I thought, and tried to keep up via my haphazard collection of CDs, digital downloads and streaming from the (now defunct) ORL Productions website. It was not enough, especially in light of the fact that he was releasing four or five albums a year. And then The Mars Volta disbanded in a heartbreakingly acrimonious rift, and I was determined to hear everything I could in an attempt to keep them alive in my heart and in my ears.

That first TMV-less year was nonetheless a busy one, with four albums released, and then nothing (apart from a Bosnian Rainbows album, the band that effectively broke up TMV, and Antemasque, the one that kind of reunited them) until 2016, when he released 12 albums with Ipecac Recordings and another 12 the following year, clearing his back catalogue.

At the moment, I think I have heard most of them at least a few times, but I’m still far from caught up. With a discography this big, it’s hard to figure out what I want to listen to. “I’m in the mood for some ORL” is all very well and good, but which ORL? Which are the instrumental albums? Which are the jazzy albums? Which are the synthpop albums? Which are the Spanish language albums? Which is the one that sounds more like Jack White than Boarding House Reach does? Which is the one that is literally a collection of random sounds? Furthermore, I’m sure this track is a reworking of previous material, but of what and from which album? This track is definitely on another album but with a different name. Defining the ORL sound is impossible, but it may be possible to catalogue the albums, in a fashion.

Happily, it’s relatively easy to access most of them – all the Ipecac Recordings releases are available on Spotify, and YouTube and Bandcamp fill in most (and possibly all) of the remaining gaps. Finding reviews, on the other hand, isn’t quite so easy, especially for the older and less easily accessible albums. So I’ve decided to review every ORL solo release (as per Discog’s list) that I can access, to help me catalogue them, to understand why I love them, and to possibly win over a few new fans. Maybe by the time I finish, The Mars Volta will have confirmed their reunion, complete with a triple-album release and world tour starting with a week’s residency in London. I can dream!

12
Dec 17

TFTACOXS* – December 12: M&S Chestnut Roast Wrap

FT + WOBS SANGER ADVENT CALENDAR1 comment • 142 views

59faebb31c327e00013f411f_marks-and-spencer-vegan-plant-basedIf buying sandwiches from a pharmacy seemed alien to me, I wonder what I would have thought about department stores selling them. I learned what Marks and Sparks was on the same tram journey back from Meadowhall that I learned what aubergine was (it was being used to describe a pair of unpurchased trousers, rejected for their colour). I had already learned that pants meant undies, and trousers indeed pants. Piece of cake, this English.

Nowadays, I solely consider M&S Simply Food, indeed. Thanks to their taunting adverts and fancy scran, I tend to think of their lunches as a tiny treat yo’self indulgence. Their first vegan wobs offering is a wrap – red pepper tortilla filled with carrots, spinach and chestnut/mixed grains, with grape & cranberry chutney to glue it all together.

Ewan wasn’t overly impressed with the textured tortilla, and found the contents unevenly distributed with many too-carroty bites, overall rating it disappointing. That wasn’t a problem with my wrap, but it was pretty small and not very filling. I did like the use of chestnuts – very xmassy – but I found it a bit too virtuous and not quite within the spirit of the xmas sanger.