It's at once refreshing and humbling.
Chris Jones 2009-01-23
Rodriguez-Lopez, ex of At The Drive In and erstwhile guitarist, writer and arranger with nu-progressive tykes The Mars Volta has a work rate that, since his rejection of hard narcotics, made Prince look like a three-toed sloth on Mogadon, including countless solo projects, soundtracks and collaborations with the likes of Lydia Lunch. This first instrumental album for Stones Throw is a heavy, crushing, abstract indictment of global greed and bad politics; all set to loping time signatures and screaming machinery. It's at once refreshing and humbling.
For anyone afraid of both progressive rock and guitar heroes, the first thing that should warm you to Omar is that, like one of his major influences, Robert Fripp, he regards the guitar as a poor weapon of choice. He's been quoted as saying that he loves effects pedals because they distance him from the very concept of the guitar as an instrument. In this he often approaches the condition of Northern European nu-jazz, using rock tools for brand new purposes.
Cramming his compositions with that old prog standby, the tri-tone, Old Money - originally mooted as a follow up to as the Mars Volta's Amputechre - could very well be an album by his other band, merely shorn of the vocals of Cedric Bixler-Zavala (although he, and many other members, appear).
The concept of evil capitalist power structures may feed a younger audience's lust for conspiracy (How To Bill The Bilderberg Group references the shady conference of super powers that furthers American economic interests in Europe) and come over as a little earnest, but it makes a fine bedrock on which to get angry with a flurry of notes.
Around the halfway mark the darker subtext comes to the fore in looped, droning free jazz workouts like Trilateral Commission As Dinner Guests (featuring MV horn player Adrián Terrazas-González) or the nightmare loop of 1921.
Omar packs so many musical ideas into ten tracks that it's hard to do more than point and gasp. Yet, unlike his predecessors, this isn't technique for technique's sake. Fractured electronics, processors pushed to their limits and that great Santana-meets-King Crimson tonality heaps on the excitement.
A tiny loss of focus on the rambling title track (a few to many triplets) is a small price to pay for entrance to a rollercoaster ride this exhilarating. Fans of The Mars Volta can buy with confidence. Anyone else who has yet to sample such a visceral thrill is urged to start here.