[4 November 2010]
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has released so much music in such a short amount of time, cracking jokes about how he probably never sleeps is borderline cliché. At this point, I’m not joking anymore—it’s time for a musical intervention.
“Omar, we’re all here for you. We’re all friends here. We think it would be best if you took a break”.
Fun fact: I’m reviewing Lopez’s 16th solo album (not including his endless catalog of side projects, films, guest appearances, and, oh, some band called The Mars Volta), but this one’s already old news; two more albums are currently scheduled for 2010, excluding the new Mars Volta album that’s been kicking around for ages (Oh, wait, it’s only been a year—Rodriguez’s schedule really messes with your perception of time).
It’s hard not to brush off a new Omar Rodriguez-Lopez album, though. With such a ridiculous release schedule—he has released eight albums since 2009—each new solo excursion feels like another brick in a daunting wall of discography impossible to summit. In an age where the Internet and technology constantly bombard music junkies with endless “must listen” albums and plenty of opportunities to fill those iPod gigabytes, devoting so much attention to one artist seems like a demanding task, even for hardcore fans.
I don’t think Lopez really gives a damn. He’s always operated outside of current music trends, playing intricate, ridiculously dense and experimental prog rock, partnering with vocalist/lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, whose vocals tip-toe between Spanish and stream-of-consciousness English. A man with this much music inside his head isn’t seeking profit or glory. He’s doing it for therapy.
Tychozorente is surprisingly chilled-out, exploring the electronic and dub influences always lurking in his previous music. This album embraces it head-on. Another surprise: there’s not a guitar track on any of these songs. One of the most renowned guitar men on the planet, Lopez has always expressed a love-hate relationship with the instrument, wrangling foreign, wild sounds through his assorted effects pedals. That fact probably explains why the trippy, synth-heavy arrangements never sound shocking. He may be a guitarist onstage, but he’s always been a songwriter, producer, and arranger, known for writing virtually every part of every one of his songs, meticulously crafting every sound in the studio. He’s basically a “sound” man, which makes enforcing a “no guitar” rule not only an understandable one, but also a logical extension of his sonic travels.
Never an artist to refuse a good collaboration, Lopez works here with Grammy nominated jazz/pop artist Ximena Sariñana (on vocals), his percussionist brother/fellow Mars Volta member Marcel Rodriguez Lopez (on mellotron), and L.A.-based DJ Nobody (Elvin Estela, on bass, programming, and co-production), fleshing out his own synthesizer, sequencer, programming, xylophone, and spoken word tracks. The resulting batch of songs is immaculately produced, each number brimming with bright synths and colorful beats. Sariñana’s vocals, sung in both Spanish and English, add layers of both sexy intrigue and accessibility, particularly on the spirited one-two opening punch of “Los Siete Sermones a los Muertos” and “Polaridad”, making this one of the most pop-oriented releases Lopez has ever been a part of.
Which isn’t to say it’s actually “pop-oriented”. Lopez’s version of electronic pop is…well, still pretty weird. The aforementioned spoken word tracks, practically whispered in Spanish, might work in the context of a David Lynch score, but here, they are slightly creepy and even more boring, turning the six minute stretch of “La Paradoja Divina” and “Contra Suspiros” into a surefire snoozefest.
It’s a shame. Basically every track featuring Sariñana is a winner, suggesting an awesome and completely fresh direction for Lopez. It’s not worth losing sleep over the worst tracks on Tychozorente—the best thing about Omar Rodriguez-Lopez albums is that, if you don’t like the one you’re listening to, there’s a good chance he’s already recorded eight more that sound nothing like it.
Maybe that intervention can wait, after all.