Note to self: Never take a writing assignment from Casey. That’s how one gets stuck reviewing the new Mars Volta album Noctourniquet. Ay yi yi. I feel like this is their 10th album so far. What the hell? This was clearly supposed to be some silly side project for Cedric and Omar to fool around with only to get bored and reform At the Drive-In. Eleven years later ATDI has now finally reformed (albeit just for a few shows) and The Mars Volta are six albums and one live album of originals into this bitch and still going. I think that is why it seems to have been going on for so long. I don’t think anyone ever expected it to last more than a couple albums. Is anyone still paying attention? Shit, I wasn’t until this little assignment. Technically, yes, I could have said no, but a small part of me wanted to see what was up with Cedric and the Gang. Quick side note. Remember when you had to describe who The Mars Volta was by saying they were half the guys from ATDI? Now to describe ATDI (since no one knows who they are anymore) you have to say it’s the guys from The Mars Volta’s old band. Weird.
Now back to the album review. First things first, this sounds nothing like anything TMV have ever done before. Then again, every single TMV album sounds different from every one before it. Lets go through them quickly for fun. We’ll start with the first and lead up to Noctourniquet.
1. De-loused in the Comatorium – This is the one that sounds like ATDI on acid.
2. Frances the Mute – The latin sounding one.
3. Scab Dates – The live one.
4. Amputechture – The one that sucked.
5. The Bedlam in Goliath – The frantic one.
6. Octahedron – The one I didn’t listen to.
And now we have Noctourniquet. That title is so ridiculous I had to copy it so every time I need to type it I can just paste it because I don’t want to worry about spelling it wrong. Great name choice guys.
From the sound of this album, it is clear that the guys from TMV are still in love with themselves. This is one reason TMV has never resonated with me like ATDI did, or even their counterparts in Sparta. Listening to their albums is like listening to an hour long jack-fest of them showing off how good they are at their instruments, and they ARE amazing at them. It wouldn’t, however, be a progressive rock album if all the songs weren’t two minutes longer than they should be. Since this is a TMV album, of course there is some sort of crazy conceptual theme. I read somewhere that the theme for Noctourniquet has something to do with Greek mythology. I suppose if I cared (at all), I could look it up on the Google (which is what you’ll have to do as well). The overall sound here is something akin to Pink Floyd (not to mention the cover art that is very reminiscent of The Darkside of the Moon). In fact, it kind of sounds like TMV is covering a Pink Floyd album that you have never heard before. TMV bring some great riffs to the table and a lot of memorable parts. The jar where the memorable songs are stored is pretty empty though. Lets get into Noctourniquet a bit deeper and I’ll show you what I mean.
The album starts off with ‘The Whip Hand’ which threw me for a loop when I first heard it. We here at typeinstereo are still young upstarts and don’t have access to free downloads and promotional copies of albums yet, and so we are forced to listen to the free streamings at RollingStone.com. When this guy is at work doing his accounting thing, sometimes the interwebs aren’t the fastest, and things skip. The problem with ‘The Whip Hand’ is that it has this gnarly time signature for a drum beat and it sounds like the song is skipping a bit. I was half way through the song before I realized that is just how it sounds. Not the strongest way to start off an album in my opinion but let us press forward. There is cluster-fuck of band members here, but I think it is Omar’s brother, Marcel, who is handling the keyboards/synthesizers. Whoever it is, is doing some damage behind those keys and making this album really enjoyable (read: bearable) to listen to. The synths on the chorus to ‘The Whip Hand’ are phenomenal and almost make up for Cedric’s terrible vocal melody.
After ‘The Whip Hand’, Noctourniquet picks up a bit and gets into stride. ‘Aegis’ and ‘Dyslexicon’ are really good and make me want to take back my curses for having to review this album. One thing that stands out on these songs, and the album as a whole, is the drumming. The drums are always moving and creating something that is fun to listen to, if not memorable. Another notable quality of Noctourniquet is that even on the faster songs, the band doesn’t get too out of hand; they keep it relatively reeled in. Where the band really excels are on the slow burners like ‘Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound’ , ‘Vedamalady’, and the title track. It is with this open space that the listener is able to keep up with the band and digest each song as a whole.
Noctourniquet is not without its faults though. In fact, there are many and they are mostly strewn about the album. When I say that, I mean that there aren’t a lot of bad songs on Noctourniquet, but there are a lot of bad parts. What do I mean “bad parts”? Jam sessions that last too long, incoherent vocals, and just too much noise. I know that makes me sound like an old man, but there are so many points on this album where there is just entirely TOO MUCH going on at once.
All in all, Noctourniquet left me feeling the same way every single other TMV album has, which is indifferent. There are shades of greatness, muddled by too much going on. The award for most confusing lyrics in music definitely goes to Cedric, and that is considering Jonsi from Sigur Ros who sings in a made-up language. To some, that might not matter at all, but I have to say that connecting with the lyrics of a song is important to me. That may be why I have had a hard time really connecting with TMV, and even ATDI. Ultimately, Noctourniquet is a good prog-rock album that will most likely appeal to people that are already fans of TMV, but it won’t make them any new fans.
Grade: The Mars Volta does their best Pink Floyd impression but end up sounding very Mars Volta-ey.