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.

Like many other early-era albums, it’s a dense structure featuring some extended-length jams as movements of the wider piece and some brilliantly weird song titles. Leaning more towards the experimental/fusion jazz end of prog, it rapidly vacillates between chilled and frantic. I must admit, I find it pretty hard-going at times, but when it salsa-dances away from raucous treble towards restrained shred, it absolutely is my jam.

Starting off with a one-two punch trading explosive energy with laid-back chill, the first two tracks set a merry hopscotch court for the focal point, “Jacob van Lennepkade II”. This is a reworking of the version from his solo debut, Omar Rodriguez, and its main riff was eventually repurposed as “Viscera Eyes” for Amputechture. I love it to death and back again, a triumphant masterpiece clocking in at nearly nineteen minutes and packed with saxo-crazy bursts on the cusp of being over-shrill, a bassline that will funk you up hard, and regular build-ups/wind-downs that bring it all back home. This is my favourite kind of working music, because it swaps between a soothing backdrop and something I have to stop what I’m doing for a few minutes to fully appreciate in all its glory. 

The thrumming closer of “Jacob” leads to “Fuerza De Liberación”, a song that has been sending me berserk as I try and fail to figure out which Ipecac series track has heavily borrowed from it. But mainly I really dislike the pitched-down, kidnappers-calling-in-a-ransom effect on the spoken word, which I never have time for. This is truly a shame, because the pop of Marcel’s groovy drumming is dope. I wasn’t hugely a fan of the spoken word on Tychozorente either, because I found it jarred against Ximena Sariñana’s vocals, but at least there we get a normal human voice. 

But there is a good deal of fun present. The woodwindorama of “Spared from the Insult List” conjures images of a beatnik stroking his pencil-thin moustache whilst being quietly anxious that his beret might be at just too jaunty of an angle. It definitely has the feel of what will later evolve into mid-era Mars Volta songs – the addition of Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s vocals would easily transform this into something cut from Amputechture. It’s like the B-side to “Jacob van Lennepkade II”s A.

The remainder of the second half works less well for me, being either a bit too subdued or too piercing. Titular track “The Apocalypse Inside of an Orange” dances (very slowly, taking its sweet-ass time) back towards experimental soundscape and is understated to the point of being boring. “Coma Pony” blows its load in the first sixty seconds, and although it’s not actively unpleasant, it just doesn’t do anything for me other than holds it holds holds it… which is exactly as exciting as you choose to perceive it. (I had the same beef with “Left For Dead” from A Lovejoy).

Ultimately, I like mostly everything apart from the toffee-stretched jam and icepick sax, which weirdly are some of my favourite parts from The Bedlam in Goliath and the penultimate movements on Frances the Mute (an album that I love more than I could ever possibly love any living human, and I’m only partially joking here). I’m not sure why this would be the case, since the only real difference is the addition of CBZ’s vocals. I feel like they often act like an anchor for the squallier parts, a unifying through-line. Without them, it’s just too oppressive, and I worry I’m going to drown in woodwinds. But I have always maintained that to every season there is an Omar, and the contemporaneous reviews I’ve seen have all been strongly positive, so I suspect I might be an outlier here.

I think a big reason for all the Apocalypse lovin’ might be the trainspottery joy in hearing “Jacob van Lennepkade II”’s progression across two solo albums to Amputechture – I certainly get a lot of nerdly happiness from it. Not only that, but over the years, I’ve tried numerous apps and breathing exercises but struggled to achieve mindfulness. When I get lost in ORL, all sense of time vanishes, and I’m not trying to keep track of the twelve things I have to do/organise or the fifty things I’m worried about – I’ve just got a brain full of beautiful noise, which is the greatest joy possible, I think. 

Track listing:
Melting Chariots
Knee Deep in the Loving Hush of Heresy
Jacob van Lennepkade II
Fuerza De Liberación
Spared from the Insult List
Baby Fat
The Apocalypse Inside of an Orange
Coma Pony