Omar Rodríguez-López

Old Money

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Given its range, depth, and breadth, it's utterly fitting that Old Money, the January 2009 offering from the increasingly prolific Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (guitarist, producer, composer, and arranger for the Mars Volta), is his debut for the mind-bending Stone's Throw imprint. On this conceptual recording very loosely based around themes of childhood dreams, nightmares, and colonial capitalism, Rodriguez-Lopez and his musical partners -- who include Juan Alderete de la Peña on bass; Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez on percussion and synths; Deantoni Parks, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, and Jon Theodore alternating on drums; and Adrian Terrazas-Gonzaleson winds -- whip up the most ambitious stew he's ever created. As a guitarist, Omar has continued absorbing the knotty winding path blazed by Frank Zappa. He's also learned from him compositionally. This music may sound unhinged, loose, and utterly mind-melting in terms of its madness, but rest assured, it is scripted and recorded quite carefully. Check "Population Council's Wet Dream," as the trio of Omar (on theremin and synths as well as guitar), Alderete de la Peña, and Theodore create a power trio of a track that would not have sounded out of place on either Zappa's Hot Rats or Billy Cobham's Spectrum. The crisscrossing rhythms, key shifts, and dynamic changes that occur within this driving, intensely focused composition may feel at times like a jam, but it's far too intricate for that. "Private Fortunes" is like its mirror image, even as Omar, who plays various keys and synths as well as bass and guitar, duets with Marcel. The faux strings, rubbery keyboard sounds, and blazing guitar solo interact beautifully with Marcel's hand drums and Latin rhythms. The closest thing to an all-out jam here is the humorously titled "I Like the Rockefellers' First Two Records, But After That...," where layers of guitars and keyboards swirl around each other but are tempered by a dubby rhythm section keeping everything anchored in a single time signature -- seemingly. But even it stretches and morphs after a bit. The set closes with the title track, the longest track here. It begins like one of Omar's soundtrack compositions, with muted fuzzy guitars layered in wah-wah and reverb as well as controlled feedback and playing in harmonic extensions of one another, with killer breaks by Marcel and Alderete de la Peña's popping bassline urging on the guitars. Marcel adds a clavinet to make things even more mutantly funky, but it just ROCKS! This may be the most over the top rock recording that Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has released to date, but it nonetheless contains all the imaginative and sophisticated musical elements that have made him so compelling as an artist. In fact, Old Money is so far-reaching, it will likely piss off some of his fans while making others nearly swoon with its unwieldy rockist excesses. As for winning new fans to his cause? You bet.

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