Friday, 5 December 2008

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez - Old Money (Stones Throw 2009)

This album is exhausting from start to finish. It’s spiralling unstructured and out there. Yet it’s the man’s most tried attempt at coherent song-writing since the heady spiky days of At the Drive-in. It’s been weird for the Mars Volta boys. Singing 3 minute pop-punk songs with ultimate fervour and energy seemed to have exhausted them and so in the ultimate intellectual move, decided they were too good for such simplistic visions of music. They split the band with Sparta off to write 3 minute pop songs and The Mars Volta off to imbibe mescaline and write prog operas to the stars. And which band is still standing? It’s a testament to The Mars Volta that they’ve withstood critical bafflement and ideas hard to market and brand and gone on to do whatever the frick they want, sprawling themselves across some of the most difficult challenging music recorded for pop audiences. Doesn’t mean it’s any good. Doesn’t mean they need an editor, a friend, a colleague, a producer to stop them from over-indulgence. Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with a powerful 3 minute verse chorus verse epic. So to ‘Old Money’ then. It’s strange that this should be on such an experimental hip-hop label, home to Madlib and Peanut Butterwolf and rap nostalgia when this is punk jazz jamming with barely audible drums. It may be a difficult listen but, the song names are amazing. Probably my favourite thing about the whole release is the sideways sardonic look at politics with ‘How to Bill the Bilderberg Group’ and ‘Private Fortunes’ and much as the old money theme of evil men with bottomless wallets ruling the world prevails in a titular sense, they bear no impact on the actual songs. And I say songs but they are undistinguishable from the next, all bounding along on energy and sheer noise, sometimes lacking structure and coherence, sometimes lacking melody and passion. There are moments when repeated distorted samples build slowly in the background before being brought to the fore, but this is a jazz noodle with a loud guitar. There’s not much to latch on to, and you get the feeling that these are ideas that will be used properly in the Mars Volta canon, rather than existing as a solid body of work here. Which is a shame because there are shades and tinges of genius and talent on here, but they’re dressed up in appositional difficult swathes of fuzz lacking any depth beyond their titles.

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