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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.

2013 was a particularly shitty year for me. It began when I had to rush my cat to the vet on New Year’s Eve for emergency surgery and ended with my mother being placed into a medically induced coma due to a mystery illness that had the doctors stumped. In between, I was unemployed with a nearly drained savings account, and my benefits were repeatedly sanctioned for arbitrary reasons. Life sucked a fat hairy nut, and I was losing hope.

Listening to The Mars Volta made me too sad, but I still needed ORL in my life. I was fully prepared to hate Bosnian Rainbows, but one listen of “Torn Maps” changed all that. Their self-titled debut became a fixture on my stereo; TGB’s half-resigned vocals intoning “the world is worthless/the world is worthless/the world is worthless/but I will/live…on” became my battle cry or, rather, my battle weep.

And yet I resisted Octopus Kool Aid. Maybe it was internalised misogyny rearing its ugly head as Yoko Ono syndrome. Maybe it was because of the profoundly creepy album cover – the expression on that armchair-headed person’s face manages to be both smug and menacing. In any case, I pretty much forgot this album existed. It’s possibly for the best, because I needed more time to appreciate TGB’s lyrical and vocal contribution to Omar’s music. Her ongoing influence seems obvious to me now that I’ve given this album some proper attention and placed it in the context of the ORL discography from 2012 onwards. The overall vibe is a fuzzy mix of dark electronica populated with looped sequences and punctuated by lyrical repetition. It’s not without guitar, but it sort of shuffles around quietly in the background rather than taking a starring role.

Instrumental segue pieces are present as expected on an electronic album, and it’s becoming clear to me just how important they are across the ORL catalogue. Opening with “Buenos Aires”, the mood is set with blingy synths deepened by distortion. Tychozorente is evident on “Células Hermosas”, extracting elements heard across that album into a singular instrumental for the first time. The slightly discordant, seesaw-like melody blends the previous tracks together seamlessly. I was fully prepared for a well, I don’t know what I expected reaction to “Un Café Atonal”, but its slightly deranged, boingy cheerfulness makes it probably the snappiest song on the album. “Avión Apestoso” hints at Omar future, as it appears on 2016’s A Lovejoy as “Un Recuerdo”. It’s more of a thematic pause than a song, a somewhat tuneless dirge that carries the sense of anxious claustrophobia reflected across the album.


“Where Are the Angels?” is my favourite track. TGB’s soft vocals, reminiscent of Hope Sandoval, are at odds with the bomba-bomba beat. But the dark lyrics overcome this mismatch to great effect. The lower pitched vocals are weirdly soothing when layered over that perky beat, despite the lyrics (“Oh lord/where are the angels/of the murderers?”). TGB’s elongated vowels often send a shiver down my spine; Björk is the only other singer I can think of who can make an “oh” drip with so much emotion (apart from Cedric Bixler-Zavala, of course).

Other songs struggle under the weight of their sequences. “Pink Heart” and “People Feeding” feature what sound like random key smashes. It’s like they’ve been deliberately added to drive the listener crazy. This works well as a concept but in reality is just irritating. As my friend Glynnis noted, they’re akin to Ross Geller’s collection-of-samples “music”. At least ORL left out the barking dog and helicopter noises. Both are quite short songs, which is a blessing because anything longer might trigger a migraine, but it also means they have a throwaway feel to them and, given the length of the later tracks, also feel like filler. Longer songs like “18” ably showcase the depth of TGB’s vocals; in many ways it serves as a microcosm of the album experience, but this also makes the shorter tracks feel slightly irrelevant.

Whilst not inaccessible in the way that some of the more outré freeform jazz or proggy time-signature-gone-haywire albums are, Octopus Kool Aid is definitely one for solid fans. Its influence on Bosnian Rainbows, which has a similar vibe but with a much richer mix, feels like another neatly slotted piece in the puzzle. It probably wouldn’t make it anywhere near my top 20 ORL albums, but it has been crucial to my ongoing mission to identify motifs and song re-imaginings across his discography, and marks the beginning of a beautiful partnership.

Track listing:
Buenos Aires
Where Are the Angels?
Pink Heart
Células Hermosas (Beautiful Cells)
People Feeding
Un Café Atonal (An Atonal Coffee)
18
Waves
Avión Apestoso (Smelly Plane)
Worlds Get in the Way

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