Deloused in the ComatoriumThe Mars Volta
Possibly the best prog-rock album from this century. Expect to find music that is written for the sake of music, that breaks boundaries, that forces the listener to think and experience concepts outside of the easy boundaries of culture and social norms that are forced on us by the media. Of course, like any good prog-rock project, "De-Loused in the Comatorium" is a conceptual album. The main character Cerpin Taxt, who is based on a real person that the band knew, falls into a coma due to self-abusive behavior. While in a coma, Taxt experiences a (possibly) hallucinigenic journey through a landscape of his own decay. The intellectually poetic lyrics make references to medical terminology, ghosts, public transportation, isolation, confusion, philosophical figures, and (self) deception. Sonically, the Mars Volta recalls the best of progressive's past and present. Like some idiot-savant with Turret's Syndrome, they seem to embody both effortlessly. It is difficult to point to one musician in the group that is not necessary for the overall sound. Every player in the group deserves mention. Guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez plays with an measured angularity that recalls Robert Fripp's late '60's/early 70's work but with the passsion of a young Carlos Santana. Cedric Bixler-Zavala sings like a young Geddy Lee being possessed by the passionate spirit of Tool's Maynard. Drummer Jon Theodore recalls the aggressive technical chops of Neil Peart, but with the instinctive recklessnes of Keith Moon. Using classic hammond/mellotron/fender-rhodes piano sounds, keyboardist Isaiah Owens recalls the necesssarily transparent playing of Billy Preston. Then there's Flea standing in on bass, and holding on for dear life. He seems actually quite challenged in this project, so much so that he never really gets the chance to "Flea out". He just plays some fantastically solid and distinctive bass, which is great to hear from him, especially in this context. How does one reconcile the gap between punk and prog? Take the in-your-face aggression of punk and put it side-by-side with darkly beautiful ballads, compelling soundscapes, metrically complex and angular riffs, and freely open jams. The lowdown: Simultaneously being a music lover and cynic, I am usually hard-pressed to easily accept new music by a band I don't know much about. I am used to the few listens it takes for me to decide what I really think about a project. The Mars Volta convinced me immediately, and is still convincing after several months of heavy rotation and an extremely memorable live experience, which is beyond the scope of this review to recount.