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Album Review: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez – Old Money

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Progressive rock, like hip-hop or country, is an extremely divisive genre. For the unconverted, all songs sound the same and are cause for much head scratching. For the faithful, it’s music that is interesting and inspiring and everything in between.

Prog-rockers The Mars Volta headlined one night of this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival, and judging by the murmurs of festival goers, the division holds true. I heard people describe the band’s set as the highlight of the weekend and the greatest show they’d ever seen. Others compared them to amped up garbage and left after a few songs.

So what can you expect of Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s latest solo effort, Old Money? More of the same, so take that for what you will.

Old Money probably doesn’t have to try hard to gather fans. The Mars Volta has a devoted following that most acts would envy, and while Old Money isn’t a carbon copy of the band’s discography, the same rock vein runs through these 10 tracks. On the flip side, the album probably doesn’t have to try too hard to amass haters, either. If you don’t like progressive rock, you won’t lose any saliva drooling over these songs.

Despite what you might expect if you’ve seen the Mars Volta’s live shows (or have assumptions based on the genre), Old Money isn’t a collection of epics. Only one song, the title track, approaches the 10-minute mark, while most of the others stay under five minutes. Yet, that longest track is arguably the best on the album because it goes somewhere. You spend the first three minutes listening to a quivering guitar intertwine with feedback until the drums begin. What follows is a song that takes you into a smoky arena with the lights down as the band jams before the lead singer takes the stage. Only, in this case, no such singer enters and the music keeps rising until it quickly fizzles into a fuzz of guitar.

Some tracks, such as “Population Council’s Wet Dream,” don’t work that well. Despite a winning title, the track never finds its footing. It gets so lost in its repetitive spaceship sounds and riffs that aggravation quickly sets in. If it were a guest at a dinner party, it’d be the rambling storyteller who makes you want to say, “Yes, I see what you’re getting at, but hurry up and finish the story.”

“Trilateral Commission as Dinner Guests” and “1921” are two tracks that make a far better case for the use of white noise. Over the course of these songs, Rodriguez-Lopez does his best Olivia Tremor Control impression by building rhythms out of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink collage of sound effects and noises that you can almost pinpoint until they get lost in the layers. What begins as a frustrating experience evolves into a fun game of testing your aural IQ.

Ultimately, what Old Money gives you is a collection of songs that are neither groundbreaking nor lazy efforts. I can’t imagine Rodriguez-Lopez winning over many new fans with this album, but for those who like the genre, the Mars Volta, or Rodriguez-Lopez’s solo work, he delivers an interesting album that won’t disappoint.

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