Making your way through a new Mars Volta record isn’t that it's always a challenge; there’s just always the promise of density and compositions that take some digestion. With newest “Noctourniquet,” there’s also bigger bevy of memorable refrains than before, with fewer diatribes. The songs are singular and tighter, too. This may piss some fans off.
Omar Rodríguez-López again arranges each track like a choir of power tools, this time with drummer Deantoni Parks (of KUDU) battling melodies with avant, behind- or off-beat flavors or with a metronomic exactness. I mention the importance of this new rhythm member because of the tumult of tracks like standout “Dyslexicon” or bendy “The Malkin Jewel.” Toms tangle up with bass lines, with singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s trill and hooligan-yelps jutting into the machine like brambles, even on the slower tunes.
And of those, there are a few in the 13 tracks. “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound” makes a quiet, practically serene sound after the bursting trio of the first three songs. Bixler-Zavala’s voice submerges into a watery processor (as opposed to sounding of broken glass or molten metal) for “In Absentia,” which sits perpetually simmering and refusing to boil. “Trinkets Pale of Moon” occurs during the album’s soft middle, where Rodriguez-Lopez’ crazy eyes start lightly drifting from “Imago” to “Molochwalker.”
On the latter, an acoustic guitar (!) strums to remind us: this machine is people. They are alive and consciously wrote and sang a workable melody and even a pedestrian harmony (!!!) on bizarrely pleasant “Vedamalady,” as it ramps up into turbulent title track and shining off with prog anthem “Zed and Two Naughts,” a zoo of carnival horrors, monsters and robots clanging to complete a palatable finale.
Whereas the formerly frequent jams-for-the-sake-of-jamming could be a source of frustration, Bixler-Zavala’s lyrics continue to bewilder in the same way. The singer continues to purposefully oscillate between surgical coherence and somersaulting word salad, between a smart “burning of the dictionary” (“Dyslexicon”) to Sh*t That Wouldn’t Fly in a Game of "Words With Friends." For every “I am a landmine / So don’t just step on me” there’s a "parasitic psychic statue.”
This might be because the Mars Volta’s best interest isn’t necessarily in keeping the album perfectly palatable for the listener, but to be creatively sated themselves. There’s a lot of pearls here, they’re just housed in some freaky flesh and busted shells.