Let Us Now Listen To The Discographies Of Various Musicians

Mike K

The Mars Volta: De-Loused In The Comatorium and Live

*De-Loused In The Comatorium* (2003)

Okay, I guess I am going to discuss the inscrutable lyrics and concept album thing a little here. This one is supposed to be about someone in a drug-induced coma and the visions about humanity and their own life they have while in that state, and is also apparently inspired by poet and friend of the band Julio Venegas. That isn’t really immediately obvious lyrically, aside from recurring use of medical terminology and unpleasant imagery and the rare direct statement like “now I’m lost” and “I’ve been waiting for so long for someone to mend all the blame”. However, the important thing is that Cedric Bixler Zavala always sings such lines as “Transient jet lag ecto mimed bison” like they mean something incredibly important, which can make things sound a little ridiculous, but also does make the content feel more immediate than it would otherwise.

Presumably due to the presence of Rick Rubin, the production puts a lot more emphasis on the guitars than Tremulant did. This has advantages and disadvantages: While it makes the more rocking sections of songs a lot more bracing, it can also overpower the quieter moments. One thing I do find somewhat disappointing is that, as much as this album is supposed to be about sonic exploration, there is a pretty easily detectable formula for most of the lengthier tracks: start out with the loudest, most aggressive part of the song, go through a psychedelic or dubby interlude or two, then eventually build back up to the first section again. Still, the songs do mostly shift directions just enough to keep things interesting without also feeling incoherent and those interludes can lead to some of the best moments on the album: I’m particularly thinking of the funky instrumental section in the middle of “Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt”, which brings to mind the ending of “Symptom Of The Universe” by Black Sabbath.

Key tracks: Inertiatic ESP, Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of), Televators

Live (2003)

I nearly typed that as "Lice", which I guess would be somewhat appropriate given the name of the previous album. Anyway, this EP presents live versions of four De-Loused In The Comatorium tracks: "Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)" and "Drunkship Of Lanterns" as recorded live in studio at the BBC, and "Cicatriz ESP" and "Televators" as recorded at an actual concert date. And actually, despite being classified as an EP and having four tracks, it's about 42 minutes long.

The two live in studio tracks fair the best here: The more bare-bones production emphasizes the live energy of the band better than the studio versions did, "Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)" benefits from some added organ, and "Drunkship Of Lanterns" gets a quiet jazzy section in the middle that nicely contrasts with the preceding freakout section. Which reminds me, this EP has now caused me to better understand why so many of the De-Loused tracks use the formula I mentioned above: If you're a band that tends to improvise or otherwise drastically rearrange your songs live, it's probably easiest to start off with a main section, do a lot of instrumental jamming in the middle, then finally return to the more straightforward part of the song.

The remaining two tracks though, are just a little more problematic. "Cicatriz" is a lot more chaotic compared to the studio version, although the enthusiasm the band puts into it makes it work in a bizarre sort of way. While the more keyboard-based rearrangement of "Televators" is interesting, it must have been recorded towards the end of a long, exhausting show, especially when it comes to the vocals. Either due to momentarily forgetting words, or just needing to catch some breath, Cedric actually flubs the first couple of lines ("Just as he hit the ground, They lowered a tow that... (long pause) gills"). He recovers nicely, and if it is towards the end of a set it's pretty understandable given some of the notes he has to hit elsewhere, but the song never quite gains the momentum the studio version had. On the whole, this (or the Televators EP, which includes all of the same performances) is worth hearing if you like De-Loused, and moreso if you haven't actually had the opportunity to see them live.

Key Tracks: Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)