Equinox dropped around an emotionally fraught and very weird time; it was released on 01 January 2013, and Cedric officially quit The Mars Volta via Twitter twenty-two days later. As a result, it completely passed me by, although many things did at that time, since early 2013 was the start of my own annus horribilis, a crummy year that began with my beloved Kitty…Vismund Kitty needing emergency surgery and concluded with my mother being hospitalised as part of her ongoing battle with various conditions, diseases and diagnoses. I took the Volta break-up pretty hard, particularly so when I passed on what ended up being their last performance until their reunion earlier this year. To quote from my LiveJournal: I was sad when Ikey quit TMV but at least he gets to be in Los Buzzardos with Jack White now. And at least his quitting didn’t lead to twitter / facebook hatefests. Noctourniquet is good but it would have been better with him (esp Zed and Two Naughts).

With hindsight, it’s probably for the best that I didn’t notice Equinox’s existence, especially considering access is no longer reliant on spending actual bell. On paper, it sounds dope, with a 2009 Volta lineup: the powerhouse of Thomas Pridgen on drums, beloved bassist Juan Alderete, and with ORL, as (mostly) always, bro Marcel R-L gifting his multi-instrumental talents. Unfortunately, it’s a mixed bag filled with way too much gross licorice and not nearly enough sour cherries to have merited spending any of the meagre employment & support allowance I was living off at that time, and I shudder to think how I would have beaten myself up if I had purchased it and only listened to it twice.

The first track, “Sueños Salvajes”, starts with great promise via the intense, balls-out drumming Thos. Pridgen is famous for. Unfortunately, this is immediately ruined with my least favourite kind of vocal effects, a muddy warble that alternates between squeaky shrieks and pitched-down growls, meaning it’s not just grating but also totally incomprehensible. This is a stylistic choice ORL often deploys, and I will never understand and will always resent it.

“Popolon” is infused with some very funky beats and a groove vaguely reminiscent of “Etoh” from The Avalanches’ unparalleled samplefest; this song is sadly devoid of its choppy charms, and there’s nothing to tie the random squall and fake-out ending together. “Oír Hasta Júpiter” could have been scraped from the Unicorn Skeleton Mask cutting floor – enough said. “Mermaid Grapefruit” wins at titles but loses at everything else, another great beat ruined with terrible vocal effects and distracting noise (presumably which fell from outer space), including random snippets of inaudible dialogue which trigger misophonia on a personal rage level just below crunching apples but just above whispering. ASMR people, I do not understand you (unless the point is revelling in homicidal rage?)

There are few things I enjoy more than when ORL dishes out several slices of multilayered, controlled chaos, but the strata of “Dientes Para el Osmosis” is far too mixed with repetitive, atonal sloppiness to parse out any joy. It’s a bit like being at a party, straining to hear a funny anecdote and only hearing every fifth word because some random douchenozzle keeps shouting a name like a carnival barker in a vain attempt to gain the attention of someone steadfastly ignoring them for the sweet delights of their phone, and it just goes on for way, way longer than you ever thought was possible.


But when the effects are dialled down to a subtle vocal delay, as on “Lovely Rain”, I forgive everything. This kind of vocal delay could easily afford an almost self-conscious attempt at inserting emotional distance but, like Vincent Adultman’s trench coat, only highlights the weakness of the disguise, allowing the emotional truth to shine. “Lovely Rain” is a bit of an outlier, yearning across the space-jam chasm towards a distant indiepop spectrum just out of reach. This song was also reworked as “Diente Azul” on Azul, Mis Dientes with Teri Gender Bender on vocals and with altered / entirely Spanish lyrics; both versions are different enough as to be incomparable with one another and indeed are both lovely in their own ways.

If at least half of Equinox was more like “No”, it would be a solid mid-table favourite. This is chaotic good, like when you’re at your tipsily witty best and definitely not being a drunk asshole doing a bad re-enactment of Brian Blessed and Simon Callow’s chess match. As such, the effects are a scooch on the vexing side, but there are enough knowing funbos and a solid beat that draws it together. I do rather wish there wasn’t so much reliance on the delay effect, but it could be worse, and some emotion gets through at the expense of lyrical comprehension. It’s also a fitting conclusion to the bleepy sci-fi vibe, which would make an excellent soundtrack to a psychological horror film set in space (and as an auteur ORL could direct it too).  

Unfortunately, this conceptual beauty, while admirable, does not make a pleasant record experience. My main beef isn’t strictly with the music, but with the baffling production choices and the tinny vocal effects. I wonder if Cedric’s Scientology-scrambled brain cross-pollinated and influenced ORL’s projects, but having said that, Equinox could very well have been in the can months or years before Noctourniqet was twinkle in Xenu’s eye. Regardless, it is the work of a man who not only has zero fucks to give regarding critical reception but never had any to begin with, and I totally love and respect that vision as I metaphorically put it on the shelf.

Track listing:
Sueños Salvajes
Lovely Rain
Oír Hasta Júpiter 
Mermaid Grapefruit
Araña Virus 
Dientes Para el Osmosis