By Rachel Dovey
Listening to The Mars Volta is a bit like watching anything written by Alan Ball: weird (there will probably be graveside fantasies and vampire sex), cerebral (you’ll have to Google most of the nouns) and absolutely delightful. On Octahedron, the Los Angeles octet takes its cryptic, stream-of-consciousness prog rock to new heights—or, more accurately, new depths. Chock full of falsetto harmonies and lilting, distorted chord progressions, this is the group’s quietest album to date, though it’s a far cry from unplugged. The opening track, “Since We’ve Been Wrong,” ebbs on a 30-second synth wave with a series of simple electric riffs in its wake. Though “Teflon” boasts Rush-like guitar thunder and violent lyrics (“Let the wheels burn, let the wheels burn, stack the tires to the neck with the body inside”), the group returns to dark balladry on “Desperate Graves” and “Copernicus,” two more highlights from a haunting album full of twilight poetry.
By Corey DuBrowa
Last year, Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez told The Onion A.V. Club that he considered the band’s next record “our acoustic album, but it also includes electronic instruments as well ... I think about ... how the idea of an acoustic album can be moved forward or just be made into something different.” Well, consider this one “different”—Octahedron is to most people’s conception of acoustic what Black Sabbath is to the average punter’s notion of folk—a completely orthogonal style that shares only a shred of musical DNA. (It’s not like the Volta faithful were out there looking for their Pink Moon.) Octahedron is the sound of a band treading water: The album’s eight-sided song pyramid retreats from the advances of last year’s The Bedlam in Goliath, reverting to the more traditional “loud/soft/loud” dynamic we’ve come to expect from Rodriguez-Lopez and his elastic-lunged, longtime vocal counterpart, Cedric Bixler-Zavala. While this makes for the occasionally pleasant pastoral moment (“Since We’ve Been Wrong”), it’s mostly a return to De-Loused in the Comatorium terrain. Been there, done that.