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The Mars Volta - Amputechture Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 November 2006
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    9
sound:    9
release year:    2006
label:    UMVD
reviewed by:    K L Poore

ImageImagine if Syd Barrett hadn’t totally fried his brain (or maybe just enough for the other guys to still ask David Gilmour to join) and Pink Floyd carried on with their original leader. There’d have been no Dark Side, Welcome to the Machine, or The Wall. Instead, we’d probably be looking back on a generation’s worth of twisted, remarkable and sometimes incomprehensible psychedelic rock. And their last release, coming a few months after Syd’s untimely death, would be the critically-acclaimed Amputechture.

Yes, yes, I know, Amputechture is the latest from the Mars Volta, but my lead-in fantasy isn’t that far removed from reality. This disc is wonderfully strange, decidedly off-beat and creatively shocking in that early Floydian way, and is easily my favorite progressive rock release this year. It’s filled with stunning guitar work (provided by John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) and incredible vocals, and paints sonic landscapes that will set your imagination free while wearing out your headphones. From the Santana-esque guitar tone of the opening cut “Vicarious Atonement” to the “A Saucerful of Secrets”-like closer “El Ciervo Vulnerado” (The Wounded Deer), it’s a showcase that puts the formidable talents of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, the musical half of TMV, on full display.

I know that mentioning the Mars Volta in the same breath as Pink Floyd (or King Crimson, if you listen to “Day of the Baphomets”) may be blasphemous to the fans who came to them through their radically punk forebear At the Drive In, but Amputechture reflects TMV’s former band only in its uncompromising stance and oft-times radical tone. In the same way that Sting seems but a slight likeness of the Police, ATDI is merely a partial shadow of the Mars Volta.
Now as much as I enjoyed their releases Deloused in the Crematorium and Frances the Mute (with the alt-radio hit “The Widow”), I have to say Amputechture is much more listenable, mature, and holds together better than either of those CDs. It displays a promise that almost seems unbounded in terms of rock music, and shows that Rodriguez-Lopez and lyricist/vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala might have been trying a little too hard on those other two. Whereas both of the former were concept albums, Amputechture isn’t saddled with that constraint, so even the longest of the songs (clocking in at over 16 minutes) holds your interest throughout, something that Crematorium and, in particular, Frances were hard-pressed to accomplish.

My only complaint, and it’s a minor one since I’m certain I’ll eventually have some sort of lyrical epiphany, is that I don’t have a clue what most of the songs are about. I admit my foreign language skills are poor at best, and I recognize there may be an issue in my translation of the Spanish lyrics, but even in English I’m a bit confused. “Glossolilalia coats my skin/Glycerin and turbulence,” Bixler-Zavala sings on “Tetragrammaton.” The reason I say it’s only a minor problem is that I see poetry in the lyrics. Words are used to convey not only a message but a feeling, and the sense of a greater meaning. I have to remind myself that when I heard “It is the scent of garlic/That lingers on my chocolate fingers” during my first listen to Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, I had a similar impression. I can only hope that Amputechture lives up to that, one of my favorite CDs.

If you’re a fan of moody, guitar-driven progressive rock, this is a CD to own.

… With that out of the way I’m now going to throw on my headphones, drift off into my own reverie and consider Syd Barrett, a man with a singular creative insanity who burned out much too soon. And I’m going to be listening to Amputechture, music from a band that’s close to fulfilling its own unmatched vision. In my imagination a torch has been passed.

I’ve listened to Amputechture quite a few times in the last couple of weeks, and most of those were on my home entertainment system and, naturally, through headphones. It’s a sterling production filled with goodies, dynamics and a stereo mix that will thrill you. The recording is crisp and clean. I love booming bass and would have enjoyed more of it in their original mix, so I boosted the bottom end on my equalizer and was happy. If you’re not a fan of somewhat noisy progressive rock, stay away from this recording and ensure that you never accidentally hear it on headphones. For the rest of you, play “Vermicide” loud.

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