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Album Review: Omar Rodríguez-López – Xenophanes

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With his billionth solo album, Xenophanes (which is actually his 12th), fans can hear a new take on Omar Rodríguez-López, one that features the guitar maestro on lead vocals (all of which are sung in the poetic Latinity of the Spanish tongue) as well as strings. Other than that daring change, there is the addition of Ximena Sariñana on vocals and the reduction of unadulterated jam time. After all, it’s not like he hasn’t explored some before.

First track, “Azoemia” sets the stage for a recurring theme of an intriguing bell-like sound that haunts multiple tracks while also opening and closing out the album. The first “single” off this record, “Mundo de Ciegos”, is a jazzy driving force that at first, reminded me of Return to Forever, but later settled into a familiar style of guitar solos and forceful drums that still kept classy keyboards. This was to be expected since five of the seven contributing musicians double as members of the Mars Volta, meaning spontaneous catchy riffs (see “Flores de Cizaña), great rhythm, and a strong driving base behind every track.

It’s interesting to hear Rodríguez-López as a full-on lead vocalist rather than only a lead guitarist. His voice is an almost soothing chant with a sort of aquatic quality, and it’s surprising to hear that tone of voice come from a small man. Just from hearing him talk, one would imagine a higher pitch. It blends absolutely well with his faraway sound evocative of religious imagery and painful witchings. However, while Sariñana does add an emotionally strong twinge to the mix, on tracks like “Desarraigo” I find their voices a bit too similar, making the two intertwine indiscernibly. Nevertheless, it’s also amazing to have two vocal inputs that play and crescendo into one throughout a record.

Impossible to ignore is the switchover from Rodríguez-López’s past solo albums, where he composed more abstract, instrumental numbers. Xenophanes feels more like an album, composed of purposefully written songs rather than extended jam sessions where coherence was optional yet always subtly mastered. The focus here are the vocals, and the exploitation of the musical mind that is signature of Rodríguez-López’s work seems to be crafted around said focus. Regardless of whether the intent was to make a more “radio-friendly” (so to speak) record, Xenophanes is made up of more two- to five-minute scorchers than elongated freak-outs and jams, making the record feel as if it should have continued when it ended. The same goes for the complex “Sangrando Detrás de los Ojos”, basically a sweet two-minute solo that fades out into anticlimax.

Do not be discouraged, however, for the changes make for a generally intense new sound. This album features a number of swings from one mood to another, the first of which being “Ojo Al Cristo De Plata”, an exploratory track and the longest of the record. On this, Sariñana’s voice delivers a calm lament complimentary to synthed-out and guttural-like guitars. There is also an ominous overlord voice towards the end that exemplifies the epic condemnation feel displayed throughout the album via lyrics and escalating refrains. One of the most remarkable sounds is Mark Aanderad’s keyboard, which provides that tubular jazzy kick mentioned earlier.

There is a reminiscence of the Mars Volta’s Octahedron in “Oremos”, and references to Christ and religion are persistent throughout the record in a very dark distortion. It seems Rodriguez-Lopez’s music, along with Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s, has a penchant for blaspheming in the most morbidly intriguing of ways, a talent which is partly the reason for such a melodically haunting and warped aural experience.

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Xenophanes Album Review: Omar Rodríguez López – Xenophanes

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