Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best of 2008: #18. The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath

Note: Due to the density of albums being presented over the upcoming weeks, I won't be posting links with them. If you want a link for any of the albums shown, leave a comment and I'll see what I can do.

For the past five years, the group started by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala has come to dominate progressive rock, breaking into the mainstream consciousness despite their experimental nature and lack of traditional song lengths and structures. But it is this desire to experiment beyond the traditional limits of commercial music, and more importantly, the band’s success in doing so that has come to define them; their ability to remain offbeat yet accessible has given the Mars Volta a surprising mass appeal, one that would threaten to belie their technical disposition were it not an already accepted fact.

However, the release of Amputechture in 2006 revealed a downside to this experimental approach, as the album often forwent listenability for jam band-style arrangements that rarely showed the Mars Volta at their energetic best. On The Bedlam in Goliath, the group goes in the exact opposite direction, trying their hand at a more straight-forward rock album, without all the clumsy peripheral dickering that held Amputechture back. The result is an improvement over their previous album, as Omar and Cedric provide a heavier focus on creating the lively funk-inspired tunes that got them noticed in the first place, but ultimately it fails to match up to the grandiosity of De-Loused in the Comatorium, or the epic ambitiousness of Frances the Mute. There is plenty of excellent material here, no doubt - the ardent and spastic "Aberinkula", the horn-laced crescendo of "Wax Simulacra", the catchy and expansive "Cavalettas" - all of which can live up to the Mars Volta's best work. But in the end, simply not enough of the material presented lives up to the band's high water mark, and The Bedlam in Goliath appears simply content to be a pretty good release by a band which has done better.

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