The Mars Volta
The Mars Volta
Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López are no strangers to reinvention—the pair have been making music together since the early days of At the Drive-In in the mid-’90s. When that band called it quits in 2001, they continued writing and recording together almost immediately with The Mars Volta. That band managed just over a decade of existence before going into hibernation right around the time At the Drive-In was resurrected. Meanwhile they also released music as Antemasque in 2014, and their dub reggae (yes, really) band De Facto preceded most of these projects. And while all those endeavors have had Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López at their creative core, they’ve also all had their own distinct musical identity.
That makes the fact that this self-titled seventh record—and the band’s first new material since 2012’s Noctourniquet—is coming out under the Mars Volta moniker somewhat baffling. Because it doesn’t sound anything like the music they’ve made before at any point in their career. Instead, they’ve taken this project in the most unexpected of directions, mellowing out to dramatic—or, perhaps, more accurately, undramatic—effect. Indeed, the musical and emotional intensity that’s defined this band in the past is largely absent, but deliberately so. That’s clear from the quasi-tropical island vibes of opener “Blacklight Shine,” which sounds, at first, a little like Thom Yorke fronting Vampire Weekend. It’s an off-kilter start, and one that firmly shakes off any preconceptions of what this band—or any of those Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López have been in—is or ever was.
There are hints of that past here and there, though—in the gentle portent of “Graveyard Love” and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the insistent, high-octane charge of “No Case Gain.” Album closer “The Requisition” meets both somewhere in the middle. But then there’s stuff like the apocalyptic neo-soul of “Shore Story” and the Latin-inspired groove of “Que Dios te Maldiga Mí Corazón,” as well as the gentle, defeated, and—for this band, anyway—relatively straightforward lilt of “Cerulea” and the almost Nick Drake–ian “Palm Full of Crux.”
It’s worth pointing out, too, that the lyrics on this album, especially on those latter two songs, are far less abstruse and arcane than, well, anything the band has done before. It’s another shedding of skin, revealing more of the fragile, mortal humans behind it all than ever before. The Mars Volta, then, are dead. Long live The Mars Volta.