I bought the Omar Rodríguez-López & John Frusciante CD upon its re-release in 2012 through his partnership with the Sargent House label, eagerly anticipating a thick-cut shredfest capable of clearing the earwax of everyone within a 2-kilometre radius. I was surprised (and, in all honesty, a bit disappointed) because although it is a guitar-driven album, it’s not the frenetic axe-battle I was expecting. 

Sadly, I never really gave it the chance it deserved in the end, because I sold it to MVE during a time of extreme penury, not because I disliked it, but because I had to pick something to sell, and at the time, all of ORL’s music was freely available to stream via his now-defunct website. Then his partnership with that label went bust, and I lost access. Even looking at the cover makes me a bit sad for the person who slunk down to the shop with a backpack half-full of treasures to be appraised, criticised and sold for a handful of coins just so I could top up my electric metre and buy some yellow-stickered Tesco scran. 

That feels like a lifetime ago; since then I have secured a digital copy and downloaded the files to a few cloud storage locations, so it’s definitely not going missing again. Access is also ensured now that the Sargent House back catalogue is available on Spotify. But I will always feel a little bit sad about all my lost media, and I’m not sure why. I could probably find it via eBay or Discogs, if willing to pay over the odds, but I don’t want a copy of the CD/book/whatever, I want mine back

Realistically, even if I still had the CD, I would probably still continue to access music via my phone, much in the way that even most of the books I read are on an e-reader. Although I don’t miss a tonne of stuff taking up my limited space, I must admit it is a shame that digital media reduces cover artwork to thumbnail images that can never compare with a proper, full-sized cover. The photo featured on Omar Rodríguez-López & John Frusciante is a pretty basic Polaroid, taken by Omar of John playing his 1962 Fender Jaguar, but the intimacy of holding something tangible, of a made thing, of art begetting art, distilled into a single image of his friend’s hand holding an object both practical and venerated, in a world where guitars are a surrogate for the sacred, is lost when squinting at a 640x1000px image.*

It’s still a cromulent image for a collaboration where guitars are a lodestar for a soundscape texturised with wibbly effects and underpinned by occasional drum machine. At times the beat is best described as more of a pulse, as on opening track “4:17am”, where it sounds as though the recording began a few moments after the music started and lends an immediate dreamlike quality where the mise-en-scène is familiar but distorted. The music doesn’t flow directly from one song to another, but the seam is very faint, and there is a clear emotional progression. 

Contemporaneous reviews I have seen are mixed, with some finding the album underwhelming, as I originally did. I do wonder if time and context have altered those opinions. I couldn’t find anything to indicate the reasoning behind the titling convention, but Epignosis posited via the Prog Archives forum I wonder if this duo began recording at 4:17am and finished at 5:45am – a short, almost ninety-minute session of just whatever they came up with. That would explain a lot. I like the story that’s been created here, especially as someone who treats music like a kind of magic that I don’t have the grimoire to learn and even if I had, wouldn’t understand the language.

As noted above, although there are clear breaks between tracks, I found it hard to select featured tracks since they influence one another, and the album is one I do think is best experienced as a whole. However, “LOE” is an obvious choice for the simple fact that, after a gradual buildup, it’s closest to what I’d been expecting all those years ago. It also best exemplifies the playful nature of this collaboration. The intro winds through tunnels of reverb, only to exit into a different topography, where it drives in concentric circles for the kind of extended outro I never tire of.

As “0” featured on a compilation many years before the album was on Spotify, it’s ORL’s second most streamed song, only bested by his cover of Ellie Goulding’s song “Lights”. But it also merits this much attention simply by being fantastic. Occasional stabs of acoustic guitar break through the ebb and flow of fuzzy sound. It’s exactly the kind of gradual progression through repetition that captures my full attention every time, and that I find very comforting. I could have done with another five or even ten minutes easily; in the past I could have been listening to this song for the best part of half an hour before realising that, in fact, the record was damaged and stuck on a loop.  

The record ends much in the way it began: with an initial stirring, intensifying towards a quickening as a summit is approached, followed by a desolate plunge into a blasted quarry and a resultant escape, concluding with a confusion of effects like binaural beats guiding lucid dreams. This album would be perfect for a series of visualisations, as filmed for Que Dios Te Maldiga Mi Corazon; I imagine an opening shot of a giant four-poster bed encased with wispy chiffon curtains as a cold, distant mother figure abandons all attempts at soothing. 

I’m still mostly listening to instrumental music during working hours, but I’ve found that Omar Rodríguez-López & John Frusciante isn’t suitable for the kind of aural wallpaper I need to concentrate. Even the simplest layers demand attention, and I find myself idly staring into space focused on the music, instead of idly staring into space while process mapping and cursing Visio’s fiddliness. This is also partially because of its relative novelty; it takes a wee while for me to grow with an album (and the reason why Is It The Clouds?, the first ORL release since The Clouds Hill Tapes Parts I,II & III, will be reviewed no earlier than winter 2025). Records like Old Money are practically part of my DNA by now, music that I sometimes feel over hearing, so having it in the background is as natural as the pulse of my heartbeat and isn’t a distraction. 

In Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Mark Twain wrote “We are so strangely made; the memories that could make us happy pass away; it is the memories that break our hearts that abide.” I’ve been actively working on making new, positive memories in locations that I had been associating with unhappier times, but music is much harder. Maybe it was for the best that my CD is gone; I wonder if I still owned a copy, I would associate it with one of the shittiest times in my life. As it stands, I like to think a fellow fan found it in the MVE some time later and punched the air with delight at snagging a rare bargain and that person still treasures it to this day.

* Unfortunately, the nature of renting music means that not only can files disappear, but the record covers can be changed! I’m mildly cheesed that a recent vinyl release of the ORL Ipecac catalogue altered most, and possibly all, of the previous artwork, but I was truly baffled when I realised that his earlier albums are also getting a do-over. Spotify now gives Cryptomnesia some very tasteful text-and-muted-gradient colours instead of the iridescent portrait of the original cover. The back image wouldn’t have featured on Spotify anyway (another tick against the streaming model), but that too was a splendid homage to the “Bohemian Rhapsody” video – but I still have this CD, thankfully.

Track listing
4:17 am
0=2
LOE
ZIM
VTA
0
5:45 am

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