Let Us Now Listen To The Discographies Of Various Musicians

Mike K
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The Mars Volta - Nocturniquet

Nocturniquet (2012)

Before this album’s release, Omar and Cedric were being quoted as it being “a simplified version of what we've done before" and “future punk”. It turns out that both of these descriptions are accurate, but there’s much more of the “future” part of the latter phrase than was anticipated: There’s heavier use of keyboards, the live drumming is heavily reverbed and often chopped up or otherwise manipulated enough to feel electronic. Electric guitars are still present, but are generally de-emphasized in the mix in favor of keyboards, the aforementioned skittering, reverbed out drums, and those increasingly present wooshy effects. Tracks like “Lapotchka” put synthesizers in the forefront in a way that hasn’t been seen from this band before. It’s not devoid of aggressive, guitar-based tracks though – “Dyslexicon” in particular feels like it could have been one of the shorter Deloused cuts.

It’s also “simpler” in the same way that Octohedron was – there’s less tendency for winding epics (though “Empty Vessels Make The Loudest Sound” and “In Absentia” are both around 7 minutes long), and there’s more empty space in the mix. However, they’ve also kind of returned to making the actual arrangements more obtuse: As with Ocotahedron, there’s more emphasis on vocal melody and songs are much more likely to wrap up in under five minutes, but the music behind these melodies is often pretty strange and adventurous. Some fans have called it more of a “pop” record, but that’s not really true – they’re still experimenting with song structure, just in a different way than in their past albums: “The Malkin Jewel” is one of the creepier tracks, mainly due to the disjointed, almost Beefheartian rhythm of the verses (it’s also a hell of an odd choice for a first single, but I guess by now they’re picking singles by what might intrigue the fanbase, not by what would actually get picked up by radio). Opener “The Whip Hand” may be the worst track, but even that sort of proves my point that a song following a verse-chorus-verse structure and being under 5 minutes long doesn’t necessarily make it “pop” – the chorus in question is exceedingly ugly, especially due to it’s deliberately annoying, brappy synth-tone.

Overall, this feels like one of those “transitional” albums, but it is an interesting development in their sound, and I’m interested in where they might go with this in the future. There’s elements of their previous material that I miss a bit, but then again, if they were still doing songs that sounded exactly like Deloused In The Comatorium, that wouldn’t be terribly “progressive”.

Key Tracks: The Malkin Jewel, Imago, Zed And Two Noughts