Kaiser Chiefs this ain't...
Jeff Ando

17:16 30th August 2006

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Some bands you have to instantly file under "difficult". Never keen to make a song four minutes long when seven or eight will do, The Mars Volta - the creative alliance formed between former At The Drive-In members Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Cedric Bixler-Zavala - have forged a fearsome reputation for the most experimental mind-bending prog-rock imaginable. With songs that seem to go on for days - last studio LP 'Frances The Mute' contained only five tracks while still managing to last a massive 77 minutes - three-hour live shows and titles that often seem to be in some new made-up language, the duo have carved a niche for themselves as the band of the intense muso, the music fan that really wants to push himself in bright new directions. Kaiser Chiefs this ain't.

However, as is always the case with such a kaleidoscope of aural "pleasures", investing time in the work of TMV can be a highly rewarding thing. Debut album 'Deloused In The Crematorium' introduced a sci-fi storyline and an alternative universe in which the album followed a particular narrative. Likewise, 'Frances...' was told in the context of the real world (or as real as the band gets), though almost as a rock opera, with each of the tracks divided into sections (similar in this respect to Green Day's 'American Idiot').

After a live album that somehow managed to be more indulgent than their "proper" albums, the band have convened to make their third studio record, the relatively sober-named 'Amputechture'. Clocking in at eight tracks over 76 minutes, from the opener 'Vicarious Atonement' there seems to be more warmth to proceedings, with the afore-mentioned track clocking in at an almost poppy seven minutes. Elsewhere, we have folkish stylings (with the Spanish-sung 'Asilos Magdalena'), free-style jazz ('Meccamputechture' and 'Day Of The Baphomets') and the closest the band have ever come to a hook ('Viscera Eyes') to whet the musical palette.

Overall, the most noticeable aspect of 'Amputechture' is the relative absence of dread, perhaps as a result of the lack of death as inspiration for the creative process. Whether relating the suicide of a mentor ('De-Loused...' took inspiration from the suicide of local El Paso artist Julio Venegas) or the death of friend ('Frances...' came shortly after the death of former bandmate Jeremy Ward), issues of mortality have never seemed far from either Rodriguez-Lopez or Bixler-Zavala, so it is refreshing to hear a recording by the band that focuses on more than one theme.

Though they will never be for everyone, for those already in thrall to TMV or even those prepared to give them a second listen this certainly avoids being a victim of "difficult third album" syndrome. At least in that sense anyway...

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