Saturday 25 January 2020

Mission to Mars -- time to return to planet prog

The mars volta
Noctourniquet
(Warner Bros)

John Meagher

John Meagher

Progressive rock may be among the most maligned genres over the past few decades but that hasn't stopped At The Drive-In's Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez from releasing album after album of challenging, polarising prog.





This latest -- their sixth as The Mars Volta -- is as uncompromising as we have come to expect from the American outfit, and for large swathes its stew of hardcore, electro-rock and avant-garde jazz stylings makes for an arduous listening experience.

There's no doubting their willingness to experiment -- virtually every track tries to innovate -- and there are occasional moments where even avowed haters will be struck by the inventiveness and audacity on display: the unpredictable time signatures and strangeness of the arrangements can be very daring.

There are even signs that the band are willing to embrace more conventional territory -- Dyslexicon (a typically opaque title for a Mars Volta song) displays elements of new wave, while The Malkin Jewel has hallmarks of reggae.

But, all too often, their nerdish, blokey brand of rock feels like a slog.

There's a fine line, after all, between startling innovation and noodling self-indulgence and The Mars Volta dance between the two -- and often several times in the course of the same song.

With the far more commercially minded At The Drive-In recently reformed, it's likely to be some time before Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez add a seventh chapter to their willfully odd side-project.

Key track Dyslexicon

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