Omar Rodríguez-López

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Xenophanes Review

by Thom Jurek

Talk about prolific. As both a member and co-composer of all the Mars Volta's recordings, and as a solo artist, it appears Omar Rodriguez-Lopez doesn't sleep. Xenophanes (named for the Greek poet) is his thirteenth solo project since 2005, and his eleventh since 2007! With that schedule it's a wonder he managed to record four albums with Mars Volta between 2005 and 2009 as well as tour. While many of Rodriguez-Lopez's recordings have been more about sonic experimentation, culture-clashing arrangement, and song structure -- as well as delivering a couple of soundtracks -- such is not the case with Xenophanes. The band here is a variation on the one he's used forever with bassist Juan Alderete de la Peña, drummer Thomas Pridgen, and keyboardist/percussionist Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez. Additionally, the album includes contributions from Mark Aanderudon additional keyboards, but doesn't (unusually) contain fellow Volta member Cedric Bixler-Zavala's vocals. This time out, the guitarist-producer-composer-arranger has chosen to use his own vocals treated by a ton of effects, and with the assistance of Mexican singer/songwriter Ximena Sariñana on backing and duet vocals. What's more, the album is sung entirely in Spanish.

Musically, this is the most accessible album, non-English lyrics and all, Rodriguez-Lopez has yet to issue. These songs are tightly composed along psychedelic rock lines with his guitar, vocals, and drums way up front. The production is fat and layered like crazy, and there are wonderful dynamic variations on tunes such as "Dessarraigo," where after an intense five-minute sonic attack of screaming guitar and drums, the piece closes out with the ghostly sounds of a gently played toy piano and reverb. The melodies at work in tracks such as the brief instrumental "Sangrando Detrás de los Ojos," with its airy, loping bass flutter, wow ambient space, and scudding drums are simply lovely. His own guitar-playing walks the path between Frank Zappa's more beautiful interludes and Jimi Hendrix's penchant for painterly psychedelic beauty. The sideways futurism of " Amanita Virosa" is infectious, as walls of guitar feedback, keyboard skronk, and syncopated drums offer a distraction before the tune's melody asserts itself in the din. On "Ojo al Cristo de Plata," the clash between the jagged forward thrust of his echoing vocals, and Sariñana's counterpoint melody clash against backmasking tape manipulations and shuddering keyboard sounds, but meet at the seam for an explosion of the kind of psychedelic funkiness we've come to expect from him. The stop and start, sheet-rock heaviness in "Flores de Cizaña" is offset by its gorgeous vocal chorus that provides a brief but necessary rest amid three, perhaps four, different melodies at work in the instrumental backing.

Xenophanes is proof that even as he reins himself in a bit, Rodriguez-Lopez cannot help but to push the envelope; this time it's as a rock & roll songwriter who knows too much to keep it simple, yet understands the instinct to draw the listener in, time and again, with layers of subtlety, powerful emotions, sleight-of-hand aural magic, and sheer power, as well as sophistication.

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