Sound: A significantly mellower and simplified version of The Mars Volta. Last year’s The Bedlam in Goliath found the aggressive prog rock experimentalists evolve by creating compositions that resembled long songs, instead of free-form multi-sectioned jams and sound manipulations. But Octahedron is even more streamlined—only 50 minutes of music, considerably fewer errant musical interludes, and fewer layers of instrumentation. Yep, it still sounds undeniably like The Mars Volta. The vocals still soar into the stratosphere and have a wicked creepiness, but they’re also frequently tender and soothing. The guitars shimmer, echo and occasionally thrash out some monstrous riffs, but they also sing out several gorgeously clean melodic lines. And the rhythms can grip you with their funky power, but they rarely pummel you, as they’ve done so often in the past.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Teflon” (Top 20 Songs of 2009 Candidate); “Cotopaxi” (Top 20 Songs of 2009 Candidate); “Since We’ve Been Wrong”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Desperate Graves”; “Halo of Nembutals”
Recommended: Many of those that have loved The Mars Volta’s previous work have put up with their musical excesses and meanderings, because the good parts were so good—completely worth the wait. But Octahedron is predominately highlights with limited waiting (relatively speaking, at least) for the next euphoric section. This scaled back and sedated version of The Mars Volta is so much easier to digest than anything they’ve done before that it could actually broaden their fanbase—and it makes their exceptional skills as musicians and hook writers more apparent. Beware, though, the lyrics are as dense, dark, death-obsessed and, at times, borderline ridiculous as they always are.
Grade: A- (Top 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)