By now, it should be abundantly clear that owing to my total lack of even the most rudimentary understanding of music theory or technique, Omargeddon reviews are emotionally driven. As such, I’m forever trailed by a weird sense of, if not outright shame, profound embarrassment that I should feel so deeply to gas on at length despite possessing no real expertise. Being embarrassed by my often intense reactions to music has semi-plagued me since childhood; once, while bisected by a lap seatbelt in my ma’s Toyota Corolla, I faked a coughing fit to mask the tears evoked by the dulcet sounds of “Africa” by Toto broadcasting from 105.7 WAPL (The Rockin’ Apple). Even as a proven crybaby, I knew I couldn’t explain why the pulsing cry ‘there’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do’ made me want to curl up and cry my little girl’s heart out. And even though since then I’ve had a certified whale of a time belting this song at karaoke, hearing it still triggers some vestiges of 1980’s beige-vinyl-upholstery-coloured melancholy, which I will remain forever embarrassed about.

Ciencia De Los Inútiles has been translated by the Mars Volta wiki as Science of the Useless, although a fluent Spanish-speaking friend advised me that in this context, ‘inútiles’ is an insult more akin to ‘loser’. This interpretation has strongly influenced my feelings about this mostly acoustic, percussion-free folk album, the only one credited to El Trío de Omar Rodriguez Lopez. Being low on cash, I opted to stream through my off-brand laptop’s tinny speakers via the now defunct ORL website and positively cried my eyes out. The left-field direction and folky vibes divided fans in most contemporaneous reviews I’ve seen, though at worst it received a lukewarm rather than vitriolic reception, and as this was the golden age of ORL solo and side projects, less keen fans simply waited a few months for the next record to drop.

The creative process for this album represents the ultimate deviation from ORL’s famously complex and often dictatorial process. Instead of assembling a varied cast of musicians and then providing them with their parts to record separately, as he did for years with the Mars Volta, album liner notes confirm that the record was completed in just three days, inclusive of composition and recording. In addition, there was a strict three-take limit for each song, although it was noted that the first take was often chosen anyway. Trying to preserve ephemeral moments doesn’t always succeed; like trapping fireflies in a jar, there’s a time-and-space limit, but in this case, a severely stripped down version of the Omar Rodríguez-López Group captures an intensity that carries as much heft with its three players as a full band could. 

The result is a study in sparsity, of the space between notes, the squeak of guitar strings duetting with the steady thud of the double bass, and above all, the quiet power of Ximena Sariñana. At times she’s pushing her vocal range to its upper limits, but for the most part, she’s simply allowing her vulnerability to expand within the space afforded. The songs translate into a very personal depiction of heartache, in particular on “Lunes”, like a dreary afternoon alone with the fear, and the lonely instrumental “Sábado”, which down another pant leg of the trousers of time might have waded into the salty waters of the sea-shanty. But there’s also unexpected joy present, as when “Viernes” confronts the trials of accepting forgiveness.

The ORL-directed “Miércoles” video adds an effective visual narrative to the process; the decision to film in black and white encourages a hyper-focus on the simplicity in the magic of three. Although it was Ximena’s pure belting on Solar Gambling that made me a fan, she’s also an expert in conveying strong emotions with increasingly reduced volume. The lyrics of “Miércoles” are full of hearts and silence, of goodbyes and past-tense love; her direct gaze to the camera in the video is often quasi-accusatory, while the softly strummed guitar and persistent metronome of the double bass steers the Trío towards the (considerably non-acoustic) bridge, where things get a bit fuzzy and neopsychedelic for a while before returning the spotlight to the vocals. 

The listless count-in to “Martes” subverts expectations as a very misleading intro to what is the most playful song on the album. Bass and vocals serve as key instrumentation, with Omar continuing to treat his acoustic guitar as though its primary function is a background squeak device; he’s clearly made a technical choice to either ignore or possibly even encourage this across the whole piece. The seesawing chorus is almost like a solo call-and-response, although this lighthearted whimsy continues a mild deception with its lyrical content, is a much welcome moment of joy.

“Jueves” continues the trend for deceptively low-key intros and introspective lyrics singing of and from the heart. Even without a translation, the tone is apparent, though I’m particularly struck by Ximena’s poetry: mi corazón es un panal / residuos del ayer / no es facil recordar promesas (machine translation gives me: my heart is a honeycomb / residue of yesterday / it’s not easy to remember promises). It’s worth noting that a good deal of the lyrics she wrote for ORL address mistrust in romantic relationships, which must have smarted while the two were actively partnered up, and now seems especially poignant years after their split. The double bass tends towards a softer texture, overwhelming the ever-present guitar squeaking through, but always allowing lyrical introspection to lead. This is my favourite of the featured tracks due to the abrupt shift to the bridge, an electric guitar solo that surges like cortisol in fight-or-flight mode.

Domingo” completes the affair on an understated note, with Ximena pushing herself to the very limit of her high register and mostly hitting the mark. The simple repetition does provide a perfectly cromulent outro, but once again, I find myself quibbling with the track listing. “Noche Dia”, a spoken word piece, utilises minimal instrumental intervention and instead supports the vocals with a soundbed of katydids and tinkly effects splashing in the background like a spray of fairy lights. As all the other song titles are days of the week, albeit non-consecutive, “Noche Dia” could round off the album as night flows into day. In fact, the Mars Volta wiki notes that the original Bandcamp digital release had indeed been ordered consecutively by days of the week, finishing with this song, but at some point the order was reshuffled and this final, shuffled track listing is also featured on the vinyl release.

I’m firmly of the belief that it’s not only possible but desirable to soundtrack your day according to your current emotional weather. The golden thread of heartbreak woven across Ciencia De Los Inútiles is sometimes thinly veiled but always pervasive. It’s an ideal soundtrack for days that are enveloped in a greyness that is neither warm nor cold, gripped by an inchoate sense of, if not outright dread, than a bone-deep unease; the sort of days when, quite frankly, I’m lost, and listening to Frances the Mute or Qué Dios Te Maldiga Mi Corazón would be akin to emotional defenestration. 

On days like these, I need an aural analgesic for endemic pain caused by the unknown and as yet unquantifiable, beneath the warmth of an overcast day nurturing hope that that blue sky is only temporarily hidden underneath, just waiting for the clouds to part.

Track listing:
Noche Día