Album ReviewsHot

The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet

on March 29, 2012, 8:00am
MV C+
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Over the course of his 10-year history as engineer of the Grammy-winning prog-rock band The Mars Volta, Omar Rodríguez-López has more than earned his reputation for being a dictatorial mastermind. His ruthless methods—forcing his collaborators (note: not bandmates) to record in isolation, kicking out players by removing their names from press releases—have led to some of the most creative and complex records of the last decade. But his rigid system has also led to inevitable tensions, and things had to change. Noctourniquet—the band’s sixth full-length—was created during a period of transition and negotiation for core members Rodríguez-López and vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, and it shows, but not necessarily in a bad way. The record is the band’s most accessible and cohesive to date.

First, there are some personnel changes. Longtime keyboardist Isaiah “Ikey” Owens and guitarist John Frusciante are gone. Freak of nature drummer Thomas Pridgen was replaced by human drum machine Deantoni Parks. Then there are some significant stylistic deviations (though the album is still very much recognizable as a Mars Volta release). Signature labyrinthine songs are mostly abandoned for more straightforward compositions, with 13 fairly self-contained tracks. Electronics are embraced wholeheartedly, with heavy video game soundtrack influences to add additional texture to the album’s already dense structures (“The Whip Hand”, “In Absentia”). Rodríguez-López has eased up on his “more-is-more” philosophy, exercising restraint on his guitar overdubbing tendency and allowing some breathing room for Bixler-Zavala’s soaring vocals (“Vedamalady”, “Imago”). Bixler-Zavala has turned a corner lyrically, too. Known for his wild and impregnable writing, he’s produced some of the most memorable and emotionally powerful lines of his career. “I found a reason to leave you with this love,” he sings on “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound”. “All I can do is forgive your broken heart.”

Noctourniquet is either the best or the worst album the band’s ever released, depending on the source of your love for the band. Die-hard prog-rock fans—the ones still obsessing over every single detail of MV’s 2003 masterpiece, De-Loused in the Comatorium—might hate this for not being challenging enough. But for those who respect The Mars Volta for continuing to evolve after all these years, their latest offering will continue to inspire hope in the band’s future.

Essential Tracks: “Aegis”, “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound”, and “Lapochka”

12 comments

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Corey
November 28, 2012 at 1:19 pm

So far I’m not liking the album, especially the drumming. Although, I suppose, like most Mars Volta songs, its an acquired taste that I haven’t yet gotten. I’ll have to listen to it a few more times before I fully absorb the album.

Basaure
August 7, 2012 at 11:12 pm

I totally agree with you on the last subject. What makes a band aren’t three albums with the same sound, but a consequent development of ideas. I myself like/love much De-Loused as Noctourniquet.

seva tras
May 10, 2012 at 12:13 pm

u guys who think that this album is not that great are close minded and dont appreciate change and complexity of anything.  u ignorant people, this is a dope album.  every cd is different, and this takes it to a new and deep level.  all the mars volta albums are great and this takes first place for now.  thank god for a band as great as this.

greg m
May 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm

I am a mars volta fan.  My favorite album is De-loused.  This new album has to be one of my favorite MV albums.  I am very interested, in maybe one day, hearing the album Omar “threw away” before engaging in this album. Empty Vessels, In Absentia, and Noctourniquet are epic, amazing songs.  I would like to praise Omar for exploring new possibilities and look forward as always to the next album.  To all the haters just remember…its not the mars volta…its you haha

Jprog
April 9, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Thank you for the most honest and comprehensive critique.  Most of the others I read were afraid to say what you said directly and said it in another way.  To me this is not their best album, and may in fact, be their worst, but the shittiest Mars Volta album will always be 1,000,000,000,000,000 times better than Nickelback’s best album.

bang
April 7, 2012 at 4:30 am

por que mierda se fue owens la re puta madre q lo pario…q paso??

whenactingasaparticle
March 31, 2012 at 5:29 am

For the first time I am a little disappointed by a mars volta album….
It just doesn’t bring any surprises or rouse any excitement, maybe because I am hearing it from a drummers perspective. Thomas pridgen took them to a higher level musically….

Peter Gallivan
March 31, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Mate, as a drummer I love this album! Pridgen was just too wild and fast and show-off-y for my liking. Parks on the other hand more focusses on complex rhythms and I find myself listening to the drums more than I ever had on a TMV album. Also the fact that he doesn’t play stupidly fast leaves space for the bass to weave in with the drums. But I’ll admit I do miss Pridgen’s drumming from songs like Wax Simulacra!

Bishop
March 30, 2012 at 5:01 am

I completely  agree the review. For me, their best album will always be Frances the Mute because of its special atmosphere that doesn’t appear in the others. I was a bit disappointed when discovering Noctourniquet but the more I listen, the more I love it! After all, I guess I wouldn’t appreciate listening to the same things again and again. They changed? So much the better as long as we can feel the marsvolta in the CD! I feel lucky to have 6 different albums of these artists!

Theosony Music Blog
March 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm

I’m just glad that this review is fair. Thank you for that. Reading Mars Volta album reviews on Pitchfork is nothing but two pretentious groups clashing to result in one destructive review. I’m enjoying this album. It’s no De-Loused or Bedlam, but there’s quite a lot to dig about it. I agree with JB, it does require repeat listens to fully appreciate.

BSReport
April 14, 2012 at 5:31 am

Exactly the way I felt. After taking a few days of soaking it in, I’m starting to hear nuances in the music I didn’t hear on the first take. With patience it turns into a hell of an album

JB
March 29, 2012 at 2:52 pm

This album, as accessible as it may be, takes multiple listens to fully digest. It’s amazing.