[14 October 2007]
In this day and age where time is fleeting, the most important thing you can do is just keep busy. Watching a good movie helps. Take Omar Rodriguez-Lopez for example. He saw a film called El Bufalo Noche (The Night Bufalo) and quite understandably, he made an album about it. Just keeping busy. Of course, Rodriguez-Lopez did a lot more than just watch the film. The co-founder and guitarist of the Mars Volta also composed the score for El Bufalo Noche and was obviously very motivated by the experience because this album, Se Dice Bisonte, No Bufalo (It’s Called Bison, Not Bufalo), is a reflection of his thoughts on the film and a tribute to those involved in making it.
Like most of Rodriguez-Lopez’s work, the album takes quite a few listens before things start to click. I must have been on my fourth or fifth spin when the songs began to make sense and the overall image and emotions of the album came across. Just listening to the opening track can make you understand why. The track, called “The Lukewarm”, is just 26 seconds long but stands as a tall opening hurdle with dense effects laced with impish squeals and gremlin grumbles, all voiced by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. Ironically, the first time I heard “The Lukewarm” I couldn’t wait for it to end, and now that I’ve listened to the album several times, the second track, “Luxury of Infancy”, has become one of the songs that I wish would last a lot longer. So, whether it was intentional or not, the outlandishness of the first track makes the second track’s solemn guitar requiem a lot more down to earth and emotionally reflective.
One of the major highlights of the album is “Rapid Fire Tollbooth”. It features the vocal talents of Cedric Bixler-Zavala, the other co-founder of the Mars Volta, with his usual eerie bag-o-treats. Although his lyrics tend to evoke morbid, cryptic imagery, his outstanding abilities as a singer almost give him license to totally fuck with the people dancing to his music. The song shouldn’t be anything new to diehard TMV fans because it debuted while they were touring this past year. The live version was much more intense, with every pounding bass line coming off as epic and ecstatic as a mad-eyed Taurus breaking its body against the walls of Orion’s chokehold. The recorded version of “Rapid Fire Tollbooth” falls short in comparison, but it’s still pumped-up jazz fusion with a more modern sound. Plus, it’s the closest you’ll get to a Mars Volta song on Se Dice Bisonte.
The album does a brilliant job in painting a mood and creating an atmosphere. “Please Heat This Eventually” and “La Tirania de la Tradicion” are two songs that display the album’s more amped-up and frenetic side. The former song is actually a condensed version of a song composed by Rodriguez-Lopez and vocalist Damo Suzuki, formerly of the experimental German band, CAN. The version on Se Dice lacks Suzuki’s vocals, but the song as a whole is a testament to Rodriguez’s growth as a producer. “Please Heat This Eventually” illuminates more diverse instrumentation, with a heightened emphasis on synths, horns, etc., with the guitar being another player more than just leading the charge. In the past, Rodriguez-Lopez has been criticized for the dominance of the guitar in his music, but clearly here he is branching out. At certain points, a tension grows within the song itself. The saxophone dances around in a drunken haze, losing and finding itself again, while the keyboards keep things steady. At last, the more chaotic grooves shined through and everything coalesced into ‘70s krautrock harmony.
Stepping back from the funkier side of Se Dice, a few tracks are on the bluer side. As lugubrious as they are, they are also vexing, as if the world were glowing green under a slowly setting indigo sun. The exemplar of this feeling is the title track, “Se Dice Bisonte, No Bufalo”. The name of the song is taken from an actual line from the film and it also features the vocals of Cedric Bixler-Zavala. The track is one of the more emotionally powerful songs on the track, because of the vocals which lack any lyrics. They are more breathy whimpers and moans. Bixler’s voice melds with the piano, played by Money Mark, and soon both enter a melancholic limbo, creating peaks and valleys in the melody. It is hauntingly beautiful and moving; much like Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky”, but the similarity ends there because “Se Dice Bisonte, No Bufalo” leaves no resolute denouement, only more questions in the mind of the listener.
So with this sentiment of leaving the listener in the dark, Se Dice Bisonte, No Bufalo is another offshoot from the mind of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. Unlike most of his work, which has a sense of plot or a theme, his newest album is unexplored territory for him and much of his audience. This album has no specific characters or storylines. What it does is celebrate emotions. The highs and lows, the accentuated chaos versus the cutting grief, all make it easier to visualize the creative process of Se Dice. Each track is the reflection of a reaction towards something in the film El Bufalo Noche, which makes it so hard to review. Judging human emotion is like telling someone they’re blinking the wrong way, so I’ll leave it at this: If you’re into the Mars Volta and Rodriguez’s previous work, then you definitely have to get in on this album. As for the rest of you, the masterful guitar work combined with complex jazz fusion grooves are worth hearing. But be warned, the album emits the feeling of climbing a mountain, on the cusp of reaching an epic revelation—then it may just leave you standing at the summit with no one around but a hollow blackness.