Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why The Mars Volta Reuniting Is Good For Rock Music And Your Ears

While nothing is 100% confirmed reputable sources have stated that the two brainchilds behind the project have begun talking again and may play together in 2015.  It is a long way off and the possibility of variables to mess it all up are high.  Ideally though, we could expect a small tour with some festival shows layered on top around the summer/fall of 2015.  There is a group that are jumping up and down with anticipation and another group that are groaning in anticipation of more falsetto squealing "over-indulgent guitar wankery".  While no doubt both points are valid (one more so than the other) there is some value for everyone in the return of the formidable musical monster.

1.  The Mars Volta is a who's who of high-talented musicians you should follow anyway

While not everyone in the band has had a great load of success after the tenure in the group there is a healthy majority of former members who had been in or are in some truly amazing groups that are the musical antithesis  of The Mars Volta's sound.  Some members I have mentioned before, but it is valuable to consider some of these names.  Original touring drummer Jon Theodore has been with some big names since he left in 2006 briefly pairing with the infamous Zack De La Rocha to form One Day As A Lion and is now the drummer for heavy rock juggernaut Queens Of The Stone Age.  His tribal drum fusion has also brought him to smaller short term projects all of which feature his signature perpetual motion style.

You also have Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez who drummed for Zechs Marquise and is now producing fresh new beats and rhythms under his new pseudonym Eureka The ButcherEureka may be in its infancy, but recent instagrams will show that he is experimenting with some old school equipment creating truly twisted sounds from some ancient technology.  In an era of laptop artists it is an exciting prospect.

I've mentioned both Deantoni Parks and Juan Alderete De La Pena, but there names deserve a second nod as both have been doing some truly forward thinking work.  Deantoni is of course drumming for numerous projects such as Art World Killers and Bosnian Rainbows and has been seen experimenting with visual artists in combining different lighting effects with his signature glitch robot drummingJuan may be releasing a new Vato Negro album soon and has tweeted about a possible new Big Sir release as well.

Even ring leaders Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala are currently exploring new territories.  Cedric is not too far (we hope) from releasing his first album under his new band Zavalaz and if a new song released on Omar's bandcamp page is a forecast of things to come then color me interested.

All of these acts are quite different from the main group, and there many many more that I could touch upon. Most importantly all feature some top notch musicians that you should keep an eye on as well.  The point is that while you may not love the signature madness of The Mars Volta the members inside are heavy duty talents that are creating some great and diverse sounds.

2.  The Mars Volta once had a strong impact on the music landscape and it could again

Whether you want to admit it or not, the early years of  the Volta had an impact on the music around it.  At the time their brand of music was far from popular and not only that you would never catch it on the main stage.  A few years after their initial exposure to the spotlight and rock bands were either imitating or at least pulling themes from the groups seminal first two albums.  Suddenly big bombastic experimental rock was cool and its ripple-effect is still being felt.  

You can debate how big of an effect the band had, but I see a pleasant correlation between the rise of The Mars Volta and the death of nu-metal and who would complain about that?  Whatever sound they invent next may or may not have a large splash in the musical pool and it may not land where we expect, but when the band was "officially" dissolved in early 2013 the outpouring of support and admiration from musicians was surprisingly larger.  Strange enough many of them were electronic and hip-hop artists such as Nobody and El-P.

It's worth humoring what could happen next as these guys always seem to be on the cusp of something new and dangerous, whether they are followed off the cliff is not always certain, but when you see The Roots covering Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus you know artists are at least watching The Mars Volta go off the cliff in admiration.

 3.  The Mars Volta showed that it paid off for a major label to gamble on an experimental band

Bands like The Mars Volta are often on smaller labels and that is not surprising.  30 minute epics and 75 minute long albums rarely are considered "marketable" by any stretch of the imagination.  The problem with this is that bands that are providing some truly exciting sounds to listen to are being ignored for what is marketable, which is sometimes known as "the same old shit we've already heard".

This is why it was indeed such a big deal when Universal signed on the band with nearly no strings attached.  They were taking a chance on a group that was at the time internally ripe with substance abuse issues and uncertainty about which turn they would take next.  Their investment paid off as the band exploded with popularity and their album sales were relatively consistent since.

While the market for music has shifted quite a lot since 2002 there still exist big name labels and big name artists.  More shaking of the tree is good for the music industry and their willingness to gamble on rogues in the industry may not always bring in financial fortune it is good for the listener.  I am reminded of Death Grips and their signing to Epic records which sounded like another story of the same sort.  When the deal soured though due to Epic's lack of support it unfortunately validated their concerns for signing on small acts with avant-garde ideas.  Fortunately another larger label has given them a chance and seemingly let them do what they want.  Perhaps we will see them open for 'Lil Wayne just like  The Mars Volta opened for System of a Down and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

4.  There have been few bands so polarizing in the past decade

A resounding 'meh' is rarely heard when The Mars Volta is mentioned in a conversation of music.  Typically you get mouth foaming loyalty or eye rolling and damnation for uttering those three words in a row.  This too, is a good thing.  Polarizing acts are powerful and are important as they are eliciting a reaction instead of just a resounding indifference.  Having that reaction means you are doing something right; you are causing them to feel something rather than just listen to some music.  We need more bands like that, that create that love or loathe feeling.  It challenges us to be critical of what we listen to, and not only that it forces us to engage with our music.  Music listening can be so passive and an uninspired process and any music that does the opposite is wonderful.  Visceral reactions are a symptom of having to be involved with the music.  I have never heard anyone say "I'm gonna hit the bowl, turn off the lights and really dive into some Kings of Leon", but I have heard that multiple times in regards to The Mars Volta.  We need more bands that encourage that....drugs not always a required.

Even if you hate them, and hate me for writing this much on the subject, you have at least had the experience of creating that response and not just an indifferent "it was alright I guess".  I like engaging with people who hate this band.  It is fun to listen to them go on and on about it, and from my experience it is always 'on and on'.  I'm happy it is, because it means you actually tuned in.

5.  The Mars Volta produce one of the most obscene live shows in modern music, and we need more of it

Love or hate them the Volta have done a few things right over the course of their career one of which are their completely off the rails live performances.  In the studio the loosest of parameters are in place to make sure the listener has a vague understanding of what is happening.  Live, the band has no ability to reign themselves in and their shows tend to fly off the rails into some strange alternate dimension of pure madness, and big stage music is in desperate need of more of that.

We are in an era of music that celebrates minimalism, subtleties, and lo-fi recording quality; a very 'less is better' approach to music.  There is nothing wrong with that, but that was never The Mars Volta which is why the potential reunion is a good thing.  Instead of tip-toeing clever lyrics over subdued synthtronics The Mars Volta arrive in a 36 wheel semi-truck that is on fire with audacious levels of pomp and circumstance.  A modern day psychedelic approach to Liberache's Candelbra.

Even from their iconic entry music, the theme to A Fistful of Dollars, the group has no shame in how it presents itself in pure ostentatious and vulgar self-indulgence, and that is something we need more of in our rock music today.  When Ryan and I reviewed the latest Daft Punk record we applauded it for going full throttle on the production and presentation, not skimping at all, and the same is true here.  Monstrous back-drops, flashing pulsing lights, and seven tier effect pedal towers reigned supreme during the heyday of Volta touring.  Sure some of that went away during their last tour, but then again that was a tour featuring a band crumbling from the inside out.  Glimmers of the golden era of the runaway locomotive still stood as Cedric's stage banter borderlined on pure word salad and Deantoni Parks turned his drum abuse to 11.

Not every band succeeds in that form of presentation.  Iron and Wine would not work very well with seizure inducing strobe lights and 3 phaser effect pedals all turned to max at the same time.  Then again, other bands could benefit from going truly mad.  It is that sense that they always went "All in" at the proverbial poker table, and it oddly always seemed to pay off for them.  Music needs some of that.  It needs full bore seroquel needing lunacy that is the polar opposite to the timid play in the shadows style music that is dominating the air waves.

Maybe I am just optimistic.  Maybe it is because it was one of the first bands I ever felt a strong attachment to, and maybe its because I'm running out of bootlegs to listen to, but I feel that this a band that had a strong impact on our music in the 21st century producing imitators and haters all at the same time.  It produced a bizarrely loyal fan base that has remained active nearly two years after their last album released, and it helped launch the careers of some excellent musicians who damn close to calling it a day on their lives as musicians.  All of this I think keeps me eager for the potential for a resurrection of the monster that is The Mars Volta