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Nov 18

Omargeddon #4: Weekly Mansions

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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.

There are moments of ‘80s-esque synth, chirpy blings, squelchy blips, and breathy lyrics, with backing vocals provided by Teri Gender Bender. It’s very polished compared to his earlier forays into electronic music, and as a result sounds buttery and delicious. It’s not anything even remotely like the Mars Volta, but from the start “Essential Punishments” hearkens to the insistent near-drill of “Frances the Mute”’s extended intro. It’s probably the least representative song here, though no less awesome for it, sounding as if The Hypnotoad’s ”angry machine” soundbed embraced mindfulness and injected some chill into its overbearing clanginess.

There’s also a lot of ORL history present in the segue tracks. “Metallic Sweating for the Rich” has its origins in the tail end of Tychozorente’s “Piedras y Ansiedad”. There, it warped from Ximena Sariñana’s vocals before dropping into a lengthy spoken-word piece; here it melts into a pulsing beat. This thread also leads forward to 2017’s Gorilla Preacher Cartel, where it appears in near-identical form as “Solos Dios lo Permite”.

“Disheartening Envelope” is a longer version of Octopus Kool Aid’s “Células Hermosas” and by now an old familiar friend. It could be the soundtrack for a dinner date held by a newly sentient synthesizer and a tipsy string section, as they flirt over juddering beats. “Want, Need, Scream in a Dream” appears on ¿Sólo Extraño?, subtly in “Common Condescend” but more obviously present on “Quemamos Lo”. Here it’s been transformed into a short, frenetic blast that was also an extended intro to “Zed and Two Naughts” from The Mars Volta’s Noctourniquet. And this too reappears one song later as “The Editor”, looping back on itself with a bleepier preface and a less frenzied pace.

For all its history, Weekly Mansions is a very accessible album; all the above songs blend smoothly into the pure bangers that make it so bouncy and fun. “Rotten Straw Lips” is just pure joy. Omar’s vocals are bordering on languid but are enriched with TGB’s backing; when she joins in singing ‘you know how to survive/without batting an eye/you close in my cup/as we drink to life’, it’s followed by a swell of tinkly synth that feels like the sun rising over an ocean horizon on the first day of a beach holiday.

Vocal distortion features heavily, as in “Get In There Before You Sour” and “Sophia As Well”, but unlike older material, there’s an Arnoldesque sweetness and light evident, decidedly less fuzzy with carefully deployed falsetto. “Head Is Made of Straw” skewers the chillout tent vibe with mellotron, like a sharply drawn breath before a monologue.

This distortion deepens rather than distracts; the lyrics aren’t entirely muddied, although they’re often hard to decipher. “Right On My Finger”’s key lyric ‘all the same you end up lonely’ adds a resigned sadness despite the repeated insistence ‘I’ve always helped myself to believe I can change’. This album may be an Omar and Marcel joint, but TGB’s contribution cannot be ignored. Although she’s singing in a higher register, the emotion conveyed is a wistful yearning.

It’s hard to pick a favourite song when I love them all so much, but the squelch-o-matic 2000 swirling around “A Little Old Picnic in Fort Collins” is putting up a mighty good fight. This may be the purest of the bangers, with a swishy beat studded by a bassline that urges you to dance like everyone’s watching , and indeed they’re pointing and laughing but you just don’t care.

I love many, many ORL albums and obviously want everyone to hear all my favourites, but I think this is the one I want people to hear the most. I struggled to whittle down my selection to three songs; the whole album is beautifully flowing piece that deserves a wider audience.

Track listing:
Essential Punishments

Rotten Straw Lips

Metallic Sweating for the Rich

Science Urges

Want, Need, Scream in a Dream

Sophia as Well

The Editor

A Little Old Picnic in Fort Collins

Disheartening Envelope

Get in There Before You Sour

Head is Made of Straw

Right on My Finger

They Ain’t Kidding Me

Bone Fat


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