Music

The Mars Volta: The Bedlam in Goliath

Get out some incense, and a ouija board, if you have one... The Mars Volta has a new album out.


The Mars Volta

The Bedlam in Goliath

Label: Island
US Release Date: 2008-01-29
UK Release Date: 2008-01-28
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The Mars Volta should trim off all their petty prog hindrances and become a straight rock band. At the Drive-In is over and buried, and the longer its two chief members, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López, try to protract its shadow over their new outlet, the more The Mars Volta suffers for it. 2006’s Amputechture hit the nadir of this duo’s damaging tendency, a patience-testing nowhere album that just about wrote the band off as a convincing creative entity. That's why The Bedlam in Goliath, their fourth album together, is even more frustrating. Notice there are 12 fleshed-out tracks here, as opposed to a bloated eight or downright endless five, hinting at an accomplished, fully listenable whole beneath its steaming façade. More than anything, though, the songs scream that the band’s heart is in kicking out jams with the best, obvious to everyone but the composers themselves.

As with any Mars Volta product, the concept behind The Bedlam in Goliath precedes it, for which they’ve reliably provided copious piles of detail, but the basis of the story involves a cursed ouija board from Jerusalem that brought ‘bedlam’ on the band. Bixler-Zavala told MTV.com that the ultimate aim of the album is to reverse their perceived bad luck in artistic fashion. In other words, ignore the attention-courting publicity stunt and for goodness’ sake don’t pretend that listening to The Mars Volta has to be an occasion of prophetic spiritual cleansing, and you’ll enjoy it more.

The reason The Bedlam in Goliath is the best record in Omar and Cedric’s catalog since De-Loused in the Comatorium is far less mysterious: new sticksman Thomas Pridgen, who lights a fire under his kit and single-handedly pulls the band together on his shoulders. His omni-present rhythm-hounding begs for something technically daunting and bruisingly fast-paced to show off his devastating skill. And oblige The Mars Volta do, opening up to crackling effect on “Goliath”, “Aberinkula” and lead-off single “Wax Simulacra”, three of the best cuts the group has ever recorded.

Named after a Nigerian drum, “Aberinkula” squeals unapologetically out of the speakers, Pridgen’s spasmodic drum performance underpinning the mighty descending basslines. Bixler-Zavala’s hyena-like snarl is still very much an acquired taste, though he sounds more than ever like Robert Plant in his best-behaved vocal on the disc. Hell, the song even has a chorus, while the restless voodoo pulse and Latin-tinged saxophone bounce off the walls and create sparks. “Goliath” lives up to its name -- taking a while to click in to a groove and get going, but at the four-minute mark, it makes its decision and never looks back. A tense, percussive build boosts crashing dynamics as Cedric wails are inhuman enough to wake Freddie Mercury’s ghost. He’s cut off, though, before he can tip the band over the edge into uninspired wank, and a keyboard segues into furiously brisk cadences which Pridgen pushes unstoppably into hyper-speed. It’s such a powerful punch in the gut, it doesn’t even matter that it carries on an inanely goofy lyric: “Give me that corpse please / The one that don’t like me / I really want it now”. In “I’m starting to feel a miscarriage coming on” we may well have a contender for the worst line of the year.

A muscular, highly compressed workout with the purpose of putting Pridgen’s incredible snare rolls in the spotlight, “Wax Simulacra” captures all the best sides of The Mars Volta in a blinding two and a half minutes. Ikey Owens’ keyboards spice it with the Middle-Eastern flavor The Mars Volta eagerly adhere to, while Juan Alderete’s inventive bass gives it all the motion it needs to reach its climax, a brilliantly colored implosion of flamenco and psychedelia.

It’s quite possible that this is the biggest and most grandiose these art-rockers have ever sounded on disc.

The problem with The Bedlam in Goliath is not its epic breakouts, but rather what lies sandwiched between. The band enjoy picking through a selection of music from the African continent, juggling them through atonal polyrhythms and eight minutes, resulting in firm, worthwhile rockers like “Metatron”, but nothing as spontaneously dazzling as the album’s highlights. Bedlam hits its first patch of trouble when it reaches “Ilyena”, served on a platter of meaningless distortion. Ikey Owens is variously a blessing and a stumbling block for the group, and he is unwisely allowed to hijack two of the disc’s dull later cuts, “Agadez” and “Askepios”. Once again, it’s left to Pridgen to keep the ball rolling by pounding out a monolithic array of time-shifting showmanship.

“Tourniquet Man” is ponderous, uninspired pandering, a stopgap between huge songs, and even when The Mars Volta return to all-out bombast for “Cavalettas”, infused with a brave pop sense, they’re cycling optimistically through half-baked fragments of ideas that don’t gel. There is nothing in the latter to justify it being the longest song on the record; it starts, then stops, then starts, then stops, then starts again, and by the time it’s reached its halfway point, you’ve had to sit through so much silliness you wonder why you should bother. “Soothsayer” brings the aggression and determination that characterizes the rest of The Bedlam in Goliath to a grinding halt, an exotic bellydance running on an extravagant orchestral reel, left bare without Pridgen’s firepower. Only during “Conjugal Burns”, which erupts into an outburst of gibberish, an album ending somehow comically ideal for the Mars Volta, do they regain some of their lost dignity.

Remember that part from School of Rock when one of the children asks Jack Black, “Are we gonna be goofing off like this everyday?”, to which he replies, “We’re not goofing off, we’re creating musical fusion”? A similar scenario exists for The Mars Volta, an undoubtedly talented band who has always found the differences between ‘goofing off’ and ‘creating musical fusion’ blurred. On The Bedlam in Goliath, they don’t even let their affinity for wacky sprawling passages run away with them too much, though they are plagued by unwise decisions how to put their good ideas to execution. With any luck, this can hopefully be the first step for the Californian eight-piece in making those two opposites clear --“Wax Simulacra” proves they have it in them. A decent songwriter wouldn’t go astray, either.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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