The Mars Volta isn’t an easy band to recommend to a casual music fan. “You’ll totally love them … if you don’t mind song titles like ‘Lapochka’ and abstract lyrics and non-linear structures and prog-rock albums that require about 10-30 listens to feel digested.”
Guess what: I really like the group—spun off of At the Drive-In and now even more prolific—in spite of Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s disinterest in comprehensible lyricism and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s unceasing solo output that only reinforces that the guitarist/producer has roughly 20 zillion ideas in his head. As usual, “Noctourniquet” begins with a bit of an exhausting primer to the record, challenging listeners to jump off now before the boat gets too far from shore. But the stuttering time signature of opener “The Whip Hand” is far from the album’s strangest moment.
“In Absentia” features clattering collisions of background howls and cymbals that seem to be sailing around your head, evoking an eerie sense of wandering at the edge of the universe that gives way to a drifting calm. First single “The Malkin Jewel” remains tough to wrangle and a bit unpleasant no matter how many times you try it on, while the abrasive “Imago” and spooky, echoing “Trinkets Pale of Moon” can’t compare to the riveting energy of the furious, spiral energy found in highlights like “Molochwalker” and “Dyslexicon.” And the patiently developing “Vedamalady” reveals an increased (if rare) willingness to build and layer with a delicate approach that wouldn’t end a Jenga game on the second move.
“If I trust in the wind, she will pave me a different road,” Bixler-Zavala sings in the unusually pretty, soothing “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound.” While “Noctourniquet” isn’t as consistently thrilling as the Mars Volta’s best (“The Bedlam in Goliath,” “De-Loused in the Comatorium”), but I’m continually happy to try to follow them and figure out where the devil they’re going.