The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet

Okay folks, strap yourselves into your toilet seats like your mother always told you to do, because I’m about to review an album. The album that I am about to review is called Noctourniquet, and what I’m going to do is write about this album, formulate some kind of an opinion about it through reasoned consideration, and the application of time and thought.

As a sidenote, I’m experimenting slightly with the tone and structure of this review, because it might be boring otherwise.

Noctourniquet? What’s that, a nocturne and a tourniquet? Clever huh? Gradients ahoy in this, the album art.

In 1859, some guy said a thing, and then I wrote a paragraph about it at the start of the review and put forth some kind of a cod-philosophical argument in the vague direction of the tone of this review. And then I rather awkwardly drew comparison between the thing what that guy said, and the album what these guys recorded, using some kind of a joining-phrase.

And that’s a lot like The Mars Volta’s latest album really. Noctourniquet, pronounced Nokia-when-wet, is a “return to form” if you will, if by “return to form” you mean that it’s another album in a string of objectively adequate albums whose varying subjective qualities are entirely that – subject to chives, I mean Ives. Charles Ives that is, not Jonathon, the overrated idiot. Their last record Octahedron was, by some way, a Mars Volta album, and as such, I quite enjoyed it. But on the other hand, some people on the internet like to tell you that it was some kind of a war crime. But then again, some people say that about every Mars Volta record, so maybe some people ought to shut the funk up. All Mars Volta albums are Mars Volta albums, whether you like them or not.

What this album is, is also one of those, a Mars Volta album. So in a way it is similar, but and at the very same time, it is actually very different to the other members of the set. But you could say that all Mars Volta records are notably different from one another so I guess that trait makes this one identical in that respect to the previous records. In many ways it might have been more original of them to just re-hash one of their old records. But they did not do that, because these guys are apparently such hacks that they cannot stop making every record sound different from their previous ones.

Spot the difference in the line-up?

Where to start? Well the contemporary paradigm of album reviewing suggests I jump somewhere into the middle of this record to find the song that in itself reflects the album’s specific qualities in microcosm and then act like describing that one song describes the entire album and by extension the specific qualities and disqualities (or abqualities if you will) thereof/therein/thereabouts.

On Noctourniquet that song is probably In Absentia, latin for “electro-punk ballad”. The specific qualities in question here are synthesizers, of which this album is worryingly enamoured. Despite losing their long-time keyboardist, Isaiah Ikey Owens this is by far the most keyboard-oriented record to bear the name “The Mars Volta”. In Absentia also features the herky-jerky spasmodic drum-clattering battery of Deatoni Parks, whose contribution to the band seems to have propelled them into distinctly odd territory, precariously close to the edge of a cliff.

Imagine, if you will, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala had recently returned to At the Drive-in. Now, imagine if you will, shortly after that announcement, they finally put out a new Mars Volta record, which in many ways is more electro-funk-boogietronic-doo-wop oriented than I had any idea whatsoever where this sentence was going.

In the end though, all this postulation means little-to-nothing, because Cedric Bixler-Zavala tells us that Noctourniquet is an album about stopping the night from bleeding. If so, tracks like Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound and Trinkets Pale of Moon seem to salve the wound and sooth the pain, while Dyslexicon and Molochwalker seem determined to push their pointy shrapnel barbs deep into the flesh of midnight. See what I did there? Actually, I pretty much have no idea what’s going on with any of these songs because, like the drumming, they are pretty scattershot and all over the damn place. Like this review? How meta! That’s what all the kids are into these days, right?

I found this lying around on my hard-drive, and I’m afraid I don’t really have a good explanation for it.

A large proportion of this album is given over to squelching electronics and self-sabotaged brickwall limiting. It is too loud. Literally. And that kind of undoes some of the softer moments. It’s a lot like trying to enjoy a tender kiss, but while being kissed, the person kissing you is pressing your head against an actual brick wall.

Cedric’s lyrics have never really been the kind of thing you can take with any literality (note: I literally did not know literality was a word until now). But as usual, he spits out his weird half-nonsensical glossolalia with “a plomb”, whatever one of those is. Let me illustrate this with several egg samples:

  • “And all the traps in the cellar go clickity-clack, cause you know I always set them for you.”
    Strong use of imagery here.
  • “Don’t you step on me, cause I’m a landmine, cause I’m a landmine.”
    Okay, I think I get you.
  • “In the time of the sixth sun, we are cattle to the prod.”
    What the fuck does that mean?
Hello, sir!

Also, if you came to this record expecting guitars then you should leave by the nearest window because there are no guitars whatsoever. Well, okay, there’s actually plenty of guitars whatsoever, but it no longer feels like Omar’s angular playing is necessarily the lead instrument here as it has often been before. Instead, this musical soup gets its viscosity from its abundance of supersaturated dirty-as-a-dirty-hat-worn-by-a-filthy-cat synths, and a mix that does not quit. Pouring concentrated acid into your eardrums.

Remember that thing that guy wrote? Well it’s funny because in many ways I guess it applies exactly to this album, because it’s also drawing uneasy parallels between religion and personal anxiety through the medium of brashness and afros.

Sorry that you read this? I’m sorry that I wrote it.

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