Review of The Mars Volta's album Octahedron
This album is a bit of an enigma to me. Starting with a minute's forty worth of silence until meandering into the quasi-ballad Since We've Been Wrong, it's pretty confusing. The Mars Volta have been calling this album their 'acoustic' album; clarifying that, it's not actually an acoustic album- more that they're taking a bit of a rest with the music, chilling out a little. I don't know why.
The 'Volta have always been best when they build songs to a crescendo- their epics are what I look forward to on any album, tracks like Cicatriz ESP from their debut, the quarter of an hour long Amputechture (from the album of the same name), and this album is sorely lacking in this department. That's not to say that it's a bad album by any stretch, it's just that when listening to it, I feel a little bit disappointed that they don't seem to have tried very hard with this- or if they have, if this is a new direction, or simply chilling out, then I don't really agree with what they're trying to do: a Mars Volta album is not something that you should be able to put on in the background- it should assault your ears and change your perceptions. This album, quite simply, doesn't do that.
But- let's look at what is good about the album. The vocal melodies are better than what they were in The Bedlam In Goliath, and that's definitely a good thing, as I found that album a little bit taxing, little bit dull. This is a nice, interesting listen. And the drums are fantastic, as ever, Thomas Pridgen is stunning, creating grooves that fill in the gaps between the songs- he really holds the whole album together, much like Jon Theodore used to. The lyrics are even more ridiculous than ever, but, if you're thinking about buying the album, you're either aware of this or strongly, strongly disagree with it, but not since Frances The Mute has Bixler-Zavala written anything more than a single intelligible line, and even then, it was a close call.
Cotopaxi, the lead 'single', is the obvious standout here. It's short and sweet, and succeeds with hooks where sometimes the rest of the album can fall a little flat. It runs beautifully into Desperate Graves and Copernicus, which are also great songs. These songs are brilliant, but, all in all, the album I think, which sits at 50 minutes, is far too long. This would be much better suited to an EP- take out the useless silence, make the songs a little more efficient and this would be closer to 30 minutes. There's no need to have all the silences in this album because they just don't contribute to anything- previously, silence/ambience has been used to great effect in tracks like Cassandra Gemini (again from Frances the Mute), but here, it just seems unnecessary.
Better would have been to release this as an EP, but, even better would it have been to be brutal, cut out the songs that just don't work and expand upon the rest, and release it with other material later down the line. Sounds harsh, but it's frustrating to listen to this and think what might have been.
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