Music

Omar Rodríguez-López: Sworn Virgins

Omar Rodríguez-López

A series of cacophonous collages that'll only appeal to die-hard fans.


Omar Rodríguez-López

Sworn Virgins

Label: Ipecac Recordings
US Release Date: 2016-07-15
UK Release Date: 2016-07-15

As Brice Ezell and I discussed in our 2013 “De-Loused in the Discography” retrospective, the Mars Volta (which was formed in 2001 out of the ashes of At the Drive-In by guitarist/producer Omar Rodríguez-López and vocalist/lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala) was easily among the most idiosyncratic, ambitious, complex, experimental, and popular progressive rock bands of its era. As revered as it was, though, the Mars Volta was also highly divisive, with many listeners finding the group’s trademark mixture of hyperactive vocals and abrasive sound loops/effects too disjointed and aimless. While those elements were certainly a major part of their formula, the duo (and their musicians) always balanced them with intricate, engrossing arrangements and hypnotic, often affective melodies to yield a captivating, if also impenetrable, sonic journey.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Rodríguez-López’s latest solo outing, Sworn Virgins. The first of a dozen new albums he plans to release in 2016 (one every two weeks, actually), as well as roughly the 25th solo record he’s made since 2004’s A Manual Dexterity: Soundtrack Volume One, Sworn Virgins finds him working with drummer/keyboardist/sampler Deantoni Parks to create abstract pieces that, while definitely interesting and memorable in spots, ultimately favor abstraction and repetition over coherent songwriting and purposeful compositions. In other words, it’s like a collection of bizarre Mars Volta transitions without any of purposeful songs in-between.

To be honest, the one-two punch of openers “Pineapple Face” and “Not Even Toad Loves You” feels like a lost movement from Noctourniquet, as its monotonous rhythms, manic guitar overdubs, and distorted, rebellious bellows (courtesy of Rodriguez-Lopez, who sounds remarkably similar to Bixler-Zavala) evoke the more straightforward madness of the Mars Volta’s final LP. There’s no doubt that these tracks demonstrate why he's still among the most characteristic players/arrangers in the field, yet they’re also too one-note and grating to enjoy.

Fortunately, the seductive ‘80s synth foundation of “Kill a Chi Chi” makes for a more melodic and inviting experience. The slithering nature of the singing is juxtaposed nicely by relatively warm and reserved percussion and guitarwork. From there, “Trick Harpoon Stare of Baby”, despite being effectively ominous, is little more than a dissonant collage of clashing otherworldly tones, while “High Water Hell” is more alluring texturally but still too rambling and avant-garde to appeal. “Saturine” is similarly meandering without meaning (although its percussion and central guitar riff is a bit intriguing).

“Crow’s Feet” is slightly more focused and accessible because it balances eccentricity with a solid hook and a tighter arrangement. It’s also complemented by “Heart Mistakes”, which is basically a hyperactive continuation of the previous track. Sadly, “Logged into Bliss” is just another hodge-podge of jarring sounds, whereas “Fortuna”, with its brief length and dreamier nature, is a charming interlude before closer “Twice a Plague” ends the sequence on a fairly structured and catchy note. Its pieces fit together more smoothly than those of most of its predecessors, so it’s more mellow, tempting, and listenable.

There’s no doubt that Sworn Virgins will entice a certain sect of Rodriguez-Lopez’s audience, as it consistently captures the experimental and abrasive approach that's a quintessential part of his unique artistry. The problem is that the record is focused almost entirely on that alone, whereas so many of his previous gems (such as the brilliant and infectious The Bedlam in Goliath) peppered these techniques around gripping melodies and dense yet cohesive and enthralling instrumentation. If you’re already a fan of his cacophonous collages, by all means check out Sworn Virgins, but anyone looking for something more tangible and gripping should look elsewhere in his discography (including his highly melodic and amiable follow-up to Sworn Virgins, Corazones).

6


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.