If you wondered what your At The Drive-In reunion tickets were buying, well here’s an answer. Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and the rest were refreshingly honest about their intentions with last year’s festival ramraid: money. Get the cash. Stick it in the bank. Use it to bankroll more prog-operas about Tarot, string theory, the RAND Corporation and Inuit animism that will be heard by a few thousand hardcore fans rather than the tens of thousands baying for ATD-I. Bish. Bash. Hieronymus Bosch.
Even outside the Mars Volta stuff for which he’s known, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has funnelled his creativity into a vast range of solo projects and other aliases. From 2004’s folky quasi-Dutch solo debut to his collaborations with experimental icon Lydia Lunch, Rodriguez-Lopez works like a man who has been told the appointed hour of his death.
Yet rather than use his booster-pack of creative freedom to go even further towards the asylum, ‘Bosnian Rainbows’ finds Omar in controlled, more conventional territory than he has been in a while. There’s structure, sub-four-minute songs, melody. It’ll never be Nick Grimshaw’s Record Of The Week and it’s still prog, but it’s a punky prog that at least feels like it is actively trying to make friends with you.
This new post-Mars Volta start sees a fresh bunch of collaborators, too; chief among them singer Teri Gender-Bender of Mexican garage punks Le Butcherettes. While her previous act was in the style of Jon Spencer’s Boss Hogg or The Von Bondies, here she’s given free reign to indulge her inner Grace Slick, drenching the songs with the sort of intense melodies that implore you to throw the tape recorder suicidally in the bath, Fear And Loathing style, when the songs reach a dramatic peak (which is often). By the end, ‘Mother, Father, Set Us Free’ is the full hundred-candles-on-an-altar-at-midnight, total-eclipse-of-the-everything send-off. ‘Eli’ starts out with about as much foreboding as you can fit into six minutes. Creepy hypnotic focal point ‘The Eye Fell In Love’ sits halfway between Heart and various cooler things that pretended they weren’t influenced by Heart.
At the same time, there’s a poppy sweetness that fills in around the basic sense of dread. ‘Turtle Neck’ could be taken from Melody’s Echo Chamber’s whimsical debut. ‘Morning Sickness’ marks the moment where Omar’s guitars give way to synths, the kick drum takes control and you’re left with svelte, sexy disco – it’s practically Glass Candy’s Johnny Jewel.
Given his creative diarrhoea, it’d be easy for his latest project to get lost in the Rodriguez-Lopez slush pile. It deserves better. We may not much remember 2009’s ‘Xenophanes’, 2009’s ‘Cryptomnesia’, or indeed 2009’s ‘Solar Gambling’, but ‘Bosnian Rainbows’ ought to be seen as a landmark in his evolution.