The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Mars Volta takes experimenting too far

College has always been a time for experimentation. Whether it’s cooking questionably old Ramen, trying on that “cowboy” persona you couldn’t pull off in high school or dropping acid before tonight’s concert, most students take advantage of this age-old axiom.

But college is also just a phase. And while most realize this and leave the mindset, some choose to stick around for life. Listening to The Mars Volta’s latest album, “The Bedlam In Goliath,” it’s safe to assume they fit in with the latter.

Formed in the wake of the demise of El Paso post-punk pioneers At The Drive-In in 2001, the group has since put out three increasingly more complex concept albums and toured the world. While some fans still favor the band’s focused experimentalism over its often-stilted songwriting and abstract lyrical narratives, “Goliath” takes a cannonball into the deep end of weird.

Except this time, it isn’t that weird. This is the same “tremendous leap” The Mars Volta makes every album. If you’ve ever picked up one of the band’s records, you know the drill: psychedelic artwork, incomprehensible song titles and prog-rock tracks clocking in at over eight minutes. Maybe I’m over simplifying, but coming in at a punishing hour and 20 minutes with song titles like “Askepios,” maybe I’m not.

This is exactly the problem. While past albums still utilized diverse genres efficiently, incorporating elements of Latin, metal, prog-rock, punk and jazz, “Goliath” has a Napoleon complex. As a result there’s hardly a good song on this album. Instead of crafting cohesive yet complex tunes, the band decided to pack as much experimentation into the concept of each individual track as possible.

At first this might sound like the music gods granting every crazy wish you’ve ever had. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Songs like “Cavalettas” start promisingly with furious bursts of chaotic yet funky guitar riffs and enough time-signature changes to make your head spin. The trouble is, by the halfway point, most of these cuts dissipate into pretentious Edgar Winter guitar noodling and you’re left wondering how a band that was this unpredictable became just the opposite.

However, the brunt of the “Goliath” blow shouldn’t necessarily be blamed on the band’s songwriting. If anything is to be blamed, it’s the album’s grossly over-thought production.

Normally exploring an incredibly wide vocal range and an excess of effects are to be expected. But here you’ll find that singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s once impressive vocal acrobatics are scarcely, if ever, present beneath concrete-thick layers of auto-tuner and production gloss. Tracks such as the conga line funk-rock of “Ilyena” embrace recording effects so tightly Bixler-Zavala sounds more like a castrated Latin pop star than an eccentric afro-sporting frontman.

It isn’t that these boys have lost any of their magic though. “The Bedlam In Goliath” is easily the group’s most musically intelligent effort. However, talent doesn’t always breed creativity. This album is a testament to that.

Maybe next time the Volta record, someone should remind them that experimenting with music can be good, but experimenting with drinking the bong water leads to albums like this.

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