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.

There’s an impressive amount of compact storytelling taking place over this short album. The individual tracks, when taken as a whole, serve as movements that add nuance and layers as they develop, deepening and compressing before crashing to an abrupt halt. Despite their brevity, the shorter songs that make up the first part are given enough space to develop without feeling truncated, and the final piece is perfectly timed – too brief for a traditional prog song and yet far too long for pop; still, it is perfectly constructed by the voices and characters of the first half.

For whatever reason, I was able to find more reviews for this album than any other ORL record so far, and most of them are overwhelmingly positive. Glide Magazine praises it as “a duet between the two powerhouses of modern rock, one which showcases both their influences on each other and the heights they reach when they work together”. Smells Like Infinite Sadness claims “Its [sic] Rodriguez-Lopez at both his most accessible and oddball, providing an interesting dichotomy in the process.” Naturally this accessibility was bound to be off-putting to some; mxdwn.com called his left-field cover of Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” “a completely inexcusable cover…which attempts to turn the empowering pop anthem into a somber song with instrumentation seemingly xeroxed poorly from Radiohead’s Amnesiac era.

I don’t agree with this assessment because I’m not hearing this is as sombre in the slightest. ORL’s version strays from the candyfloss lights of pop, but the addition of TGB’s sweet backing vocals prevents a swerve towards the leering carnie hiding in the shadows of the creepier side of the carnival. Upon hearing the original, I wonder if he chose this as his one and only studio cover in a cheeky, challopsy mood as one that you’d least expect him to pick.* It also marks the part of the album where more outré elements are layered in, as it builds towards its final coda. I’m guessing the brief dialogue sample is from a film, as they generally tend to be, and although normally I find these kinds of samples jarring, this one slots into the jagged edges of this song quite well. 

The Comatorium, a Mars Volta fan message board, was all over the similarities between “Atlantis Is Rising” and “Sea Is Rising”, a song with multiple versions across the ORL oeuvre. It’s not strictly another reworking to my ears, but there are shared motifs, and it’s no surprise that this is a favourite of mine, since I fucking adore “Sea Is Rising”. I’m enamoured with the lyrics, from the opening line “We’ve been living a lie without a sacred tomb” onwards, and of TGB’s power to infuse passion and emotion simply by singing ‘oh’. It’s a powerful, standard-setting example of their excellent duetting chops.

The album’s intensity corpses a bit during the delightfully silly “Savage Letters”. ORL’s vocals take on a solemn timbre against what reminds me of old-tyme silent film piano accompaniment music, and I can hear him on the verge of laughter as he informs us several times that “Her name is Bacon” – a legit surname, but I get the feeling this is meant to be her first name. A brief blast of old-skool ORL guitar slices through the pop halfway through this seemingly simple fairytale of a love affair turned violent, presented as a slapsticky send-up complete with gender-bent fridging. Matthew Schuchman of Verbicide magazine says, “it sounds like a Mike Patton cover of a Burt Bacharach song, and it’s goddamn glorious!” Spot on, Matthew!

If I had one minor quibble – and it is very minor, and I’m clearly scraping the bottom of the critique barrel here – it’s that I wish TGB took the lead vocals for at least one of the songs. ORL has said that Blind Worms, Pious Swine was “one of the last solo records before forming Bosnian Rainbows…” and nearly all the reviews I’ve seen call out the similarities between the two. TGB does take lead vocals with that band (which also features Deantoni Parks on drums as this album does) so if I need to scratch that itch, I do have that record to listen to, thus this quibble is doused with a hefty portion of weaksauce. There does exist a second, unreleased Bosnian Rainbows album; considering it took over fifteen years for the “lost” Mars Volta album The Somnambulists to surface as Arañas en la Sombra, I do live in hope for its eventual release. Until then, Blind Worms, Pious Swine is an excellent unofficial follow-up. 

 

*”Well, actually, I think you’ll find” klaxon: the BWPS Wikipedia page and various reviews all claim that this is the first-ever cover on an ORL record – I’m not so sure. The song “Deus Ex Machina” from A Manual Dexterity: Soundtrack Volume One is a reworked version of his old man’s tune “Reina de Mi Vida”, with vocals provided by same. Does this count as a cover because the material isn’t strictly original? Or because it wanders too far from the source, is it categorised as new material? Apparently the latter…?

Track listing:
Vanishing Tide
Atlantis is Rising
Black Mass
Lights
Tunnel Riot
Savage Letters
Mariposa
Swollen Neck
Hieroglyphs From Hell
Acacia
Only Nothing Is

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