Friday, February 01, 2008

Review: The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath

Label: Universal Records

Released: January 29, 2008

The Mars Volta really scaled things back for this one. Gone are the super-long songs (the longest here is comparatively radio-friendly at nine and a half minutes). All sarcasm aside, they run completely wild with music that's almost impossible to follow, yet just as impossible to ignore. On previous efforts, their bold explorations have never broken down, pushing to the very sonic limits of rock music. The Bedlam in Goliath, while it too reaches the upper atmosphere of experimentation, does get lost and confused at points. For the first time, the Mars Volta may have pushed too far or, more likely, not held on tight enough for their own ride.

Right away, "Aberinkula" makes no secret that the band intends this album to challenge the boundaries they had continuously pushed on their previous albums, particularly Amputechture. With its near chaos of manic virtuosity at full tilt, it's still possible to pick out their love for Mahavishnu Orchestra and Ornette Coleman. They seem to bring things back to this world on "Ilyena," but even that ultimately goes bananas as well. When "Tourniquet Man" also devolves into the nearly unlistenable (or completely unlistenable, depending upon your tolerance), the band might have given up too much control.

Still, their ability to mash-up Latin and thrash and intersperse it with spacey prog on "Ouroborous" or to transition the funk-infused energy of "Cavelletas" into Black Flag guitar noodling is amazing. In fact, the influence of Greg Ginn's playing on Omar Rodriguez-Lopez pops up in a few places and speaks well of both Ginn's underrated playing and Rodriguez-Lopez's ability to recognize it and incorporate it into his own seemingly boundless bag of tricks.

Always pushing, the Mars Volta find a home for Middle Eastern and classical, free jazz, prog, metal, punk and probably every other style under the sun in the boiling pot that is The Bedlam in Goliath. While there are a few moments when the music may crumble under the weight of its own ambition, Omar and company still hold the mania together over the course of the album even if the music can be as esoteric as the lyrics. The closer, "Conjugal Burns," breaks into free jazz and spacey electronics toward the end, but returns to its structure with about a minute to go as if to assure us that, despite the meandering ride, the Mars Volta is very much in control of the destination.

Rating: 9/10

The limited promo EP that many record stores were giving away (every store in my area was out of them by the day after the release) contains a cover of the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd tune, "Candy and a Currant Bun." The Mars Volta certainly put their stamp on the song, but it's more for the serious Volta fan (do they even have casual fans?). Sometimes, too many crazy geniuses spoil the soup. The really great thing about the EP is that it's a CD on one side (that also contains the video for "Wax Simulacra") and vinyl (yeah, I said VINYL) on the other. That's as crazy cool as the band themselves!



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Blogger The Mad Hatter said...

I actually like this album much better than Amputechture. I always felt like Frances was an improved working of Deloused, and I think Bedlam fits the same bill. Gone, however, is the sound-silence-sound templates of yesteryear; this is an all-out assault on the ears. Hardcore, funky, progadelic jazz. I think Omar takes a page from Fripp here as well. If the Volta moved any closer to Crimson, the guitar-work at times could justify it. I do think the album's last third is a bit weaker than the rest, partially because they came out so strong. Otherwise, they just have to lose the cosmic Ouija board schtick, replete with board game, and let everyone focus on the music instead, because it's worth the listen.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Deloused is still my favorite MV album because I just won't forget the initial contact of such brilliance. Still, I'm eager to hear this one.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

This has been my least favorite album from TMV thus far. I think this is right below Amputechture. In my opinion there is just way too much going on here, as you were saying it's almost impossible to follow. In their favor though, I really love how I never know what to expect with each release, Frances was so unique and definitely had a different sound from De Loused, and then Amputechture was a far different than their two previous releases. This album somewhat reminds me of Amputechture but is definitely different. I would probably rate this album a B, sometimes it's almost hard to listen to because it's pretty overwhelming.

12:34 PM  
Blogger The Mad Hatter said...


Totally in agreement; and I think this is the reason when they played those songs live, they didn't carry over well. Some parts of the album are these impenetrable musical walls where it seems everything is indistinguishable. I think Amputechture was kind of like that too, just not as interesting.

2:29 PM  
Blogger bob_vinyl said...

Jeff and Mad Hatter, I think I'm in the minority that loved Amputechture. The comparisons to King Crimson are certainly not misplaced and like Fripp and his band, the Mars Volta will never as accessible as their peers, but that's not a limit on their greatness. The only thing with Bedlam is that, where Amputechture went into Ornette Coleman territory, but kept it from breaking down, Bedlam isn't quite so successful. I like the impenetrable sonic walls so long as they don't crumble.

12:07 AM  
Blogger David Amulet said...

Great comment that sums up TMV for me: Excellent diversity and energy, but a few too many moments "when the music may crumble under the weight of its own ambition."

Well said.

-- david

2:05 PM  

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