Octahedron (album)

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Octahedron
Studio album by The Mars Volta
Released June 23, 2009
Recorded 2007, August 2008 at 99 Sutton Street in Brooklyn, New York[1]
Genre Progressive rock, experimental rock
Length 50:03
Label Warner Bros.
Mercury
Producer Omar Rodríguez-López
The Mars Volta chronology
The Bedlam in Goliath
(2008)
Octahedron
(2009)
Noctourniquet
(2012)
Singles from Octahedron
  1. "Cotopaxi"
    Released: June 15, 2009
  2. "Since We've Been Wrong"
    Released: June 26, 2009

Octahedron is the fifth full-length studio album by American progressive rock band The Mars Volta, released on June 23, 2009. The album was released by Warner Bros. Records in North America and Mercury Records worldwide. It is the last studio album to feature drummer Thomas Pridgen and guitarist John Frusciante, and the first not to feature contributions from keyboardist Isaiah "Ikey" Owens.[2]

Regarding the release, vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala states that the band "wanted to make the opposite of all the records we've done. All along we've threatened people that we'd make a pop record, and now we have."[3]

It debuted at #12 on the Billboard 200 Album chart with sales of 29,980 in its first week of release.[4]

Development[edit]

Omar Rodríguez-López started working on Octahedron in 2007 at the same time as The Bedlam in Goliath, in his typical fashion of working on two or three projects simultaneously. Yet as Bedlam turned into a "nightmare of a record to make" Rodriguez was unable to sustain both projects and devoted his attention on Bedlam.[5]

In October 2007, a 30-second clip of a new song was leaked onto the Internet, originally assumed to be from the upcoming The Bedlam in Goliath. Later, the song (unofficially named "Beneath the Eyelids" by the fans) was played live by the band at the New Year's Eve show in San Francisco at the end of the acoustic set, introduced by Cedric Bixler-Zavala as "the song that we worked on that hasn't come out yet". The song eventually ended up on Octahedron as "Since We've Been Wrong".

Rodriguez had discussed the band's next album (then untitled) as early as January 2008, the month that The Bedlam in Goliath was released,[6][7] claiming "I consider it to be our acoustic album." Bixler-Zavala has also spoken of the album as "acoustic" and "mellow," yet stated: "We know how people can be so linear in their way of thinking, so when they hear the new album, they're going to say, 'This is not an acoustic album! There's electricity throughout it!' But it's our version. That's what our band does -- celebrate mutations. It's our version of what we consider an acoustic album."[8]

The album was finished in three weeks during the month of August 2008, in Brooklyn, New York. Prior to recording, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez asked both saxophonist Adrián Terrazas-González and rhythm-guitarist/sound manipulator Paul Hinojos to leave the band. The Mars Volta's official website states that both "did so amicably."[9] Regarding their departure, percussionist Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez noted that: "it's like we got a whole new band. It's two less members — we got to play differently."[10]

Shortly after the album's release, Rodriguez-Lopez had hinted at Octahedron being the final album he records in his typical "gun-in-your-face mentality" where he would give musicians their parts without giving them any knowledge of how they fit into the greater song.[5] However, he chose to continue with this technique for the band's subsequent album, Noctourniquet, stating it would be the last album he records that way.[11]

Themes[edit]

Similar to the band's third studio album, Amputechture, the album does not contain a single unifying narrative. Vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala notes that the album is "not really" a concept album: "I thought it was going to be but never really got around to writing about anything in particular. Just a lot of instant song composing and regular themes that I wouldn't even want to elaborate on [...] kidnappings, vanishings, 'what if' scenarios about how to get Republicans out of the White House if they'd got in." [3]

In another interview Cedric elaborated on the kidnapping/vanishing themes, saying "Lyrically, I wanted to incorporate elements of traditional songs. So that it would sound like our world had these handed down, traditional songs that were to do with real random vanishings and kidnappings. That is a big part of Latin culture. People get kidnapped all the time. I wanted to cover everything. Right from the exhilarating feeling you get when you put the ransom note down, the adrenaline rush when you realise a loved one has been taken from you, followed by that bleak, dismal area of not knowing what to do. Especially if you don't come from money. We had two friends that we knew from Texas who just randomly vanished. We've never known whether they just took off or if they met foul play. I found it an interesting subject matter to tackle. I wanted the lyrics to instil that bleak feeling you can get from living somewhere like El Paso. Even though I haven't lived at home for ages, it's still with me. The stories that come from across the border still hit home really hard. I just wanted to have a soundtrack for that really."[12]

In an interview with Revolver, Cedric discussed the theme of "Teflon": "I had been writing the lyrics and sort of testing the waters of how much I could say if McCain had won the election. I don't usually write anything about things like that. I think 'Teflon' is my favorite because it kind of has that slacker attitude of someone who doesn't vote but at the same time is giving a fuck. I think a lot of people could maybe understand that." In this same interview, it was pointed out that the introduction of "Halo of Nembutals" contains a sample of a Jeremy Michael Ward recording, dating back to 2003.[13]

The song "With Twilight as My Guide" appears to take place during the Salem Witch Trials, which is revealed through an interview with opera singer Renée Fleming, who covered the song on her album Dark Hope: "I was especially fascinated by the Mars Volta song, 'With Twilight As My Guide', which is operatic in its scale and musical complexity. I was however a bit concerned about the text, specifically the reference to 'devil daughters'. I said, 'As much as I love this song, I really can't sing it for that reason.' Peter Mensch offered to contact Cedric Bixler-Zavala and asked if the text could be changed, since the overall meaning of the song wasn't completely clear anyway. Cedric responded, "Sure, she can change it. I would just like it to be known that in no way is the lyric supposed to paint women in a bad light... The song feels like it was written during the Salem Witch Trials, and it sarcastically takes the religious right wing slang of how all women were treated. Our last album, Bedlam in Goliath, was one huge metaphor for the way women are treated in Islamic society (honor killings, etc) not just a story about a ouija board... it's meant to make you question the way things are."[14]

Promotion[edit]

On April 22, 2009, the album's first single, "Cotopaxi," was played as the "hottest record in the world" for that day on the Zane Lowe BBC Radio One show.[15]

An e-mail sent to people who had signed up to The Mars Volta's newsletter on May 16 confirmed details of the album and provided a link streaming four songs ("Since We've Been Wrong," "Cotopaxi," "With Twilight as My Guide," and "Desperate Graves") upon inserting one of the band's four previous studio albums into the disc tray of the user's computer. The promotion also provided a chance to win a pair of tickets to their show at the ICA, London on June 18[16] and a link to pre-order the digipack, limited edition of the album exclusive to HMV.[17] Also, an interactive website was launched, which featured "Since We've Been Wrong" and "Cotopaxi", as well as their lyrics, and several pictures of Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler-Zavala.[18]

Vinyl release[edit]

The 2x12" LP was pressed on white vinyl and was limited to 5,000 copies for the United States on Rodriguez Lopez Productions.[19] The first 500 orders of the vinyl album included a limited vinyl slipmat.[20]


Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic (66/100)[21]
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[22]
Drowned in Sound (7/10)[23]
Entertainment Weekly B−[24]
Paste (8/10) (Dovey)
(5/10) (DuBrowa)[21][25]
Pitchfork Media (6/10)[26]
PopMatters (6/10)[27]
Rolling Stone 3/5 stars[28]
Slant Magazine 3/5 stars[29]
Spin (7/10)[30]
Sputnikmusic 4/5 stars[31]

The album so far has a score of 66 out of 100 from Metacritic based on "generally favorable reviews".[21] The New York Times gave the album a favorable review and said, "The panache of the singing and the radiant complexity of the music--an achievement shared by Mr. Rodriguez Lopez and a handful of regular collaborators, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante--drive the album relentlessly forward. And it’s the subtle touches, no less than the sweeping ones, that leave an impression."[32] The Boston Globe also gave it a favorable review and said, "Guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala are the creative duo driving the band and once again deliver on a standing promise to blow any mind that is willing to stay open."[33] Planet Sound gave it a score of seven out of ten and called it the band's "most chilled-out and approachable record."[34] NME also gave it a score of seven out of ten and said it "might be their ‘reflective’ effort, but it’s classic MV."[35] Under the Radar gave it seven stars out of ten and said, "We already knew The Mars Volta could shred. Now we know they can slow the pace too and be equally as compelling."[21] Tiny Mix Tapes gave it three-and-a-half stars out of five and said it "isn’t a representation of the best The Mars Volta are capable of, but it is a glimpse into the power they possess when they better harness their capabilities."[36] musicOMH also gave it a score of three-and-a-half stars out of five and said that for the first time the band "really can do restraint, without compromising the overall impact of the instances where things are let rip."[37] Paste gave the album altogether a review averaging about 6.5 out of ten: Rachel Dovey gave it an eight out of ten and said that "the group returns to dark balladry on 'Desperate Graves' and 'Copernicus,' two more highlights from a haunting album full of twilight poetry"; Corey DuBrowa, however, gave it five out of ten and called the album "the sound of a band treading water."[25]

Other scores are average, mixed or negative: The Scotsman gave it a score of three stars out of five and said that it "employs stillness as a set-up for all manner of disruption: sharply pealing riffs, phantasmagorical metaphors, convoluted song structures. In many ways it's a typical effort from the guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and the vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, who make up the Mars Volta's core. But that's not to discredit the more measured side of Octahedron. Presented as an eight-song suite, the album delivers a panoramic range of intensity, sliding along that range in ways both gradual and startling."[38] BBC Music gave it an average review and said that the album "shows the band maintaining a frighteningly productive work rate... while continuing to mature. [...] Its vaulting ambition demands over-inflated self-confidence. And MV have that in spades."[39] Uncut also gave it a score of three stars out of five and said, "As ever with The Mars Volta, there are enough flashes of brilliance to make up for the wearying material elsewhere."[21] Q likewise gave the album three stars out of five and said it "bucks the band's trend for obfuscation, though; conventional song structures are very much in evidence, while its relatively trim 49-minute running time is on par with some of Mars Volta's more involved live jams."[21] Alternative Press likewise gave it three stars and said the album "will appeal to elderly prog fans immune to attention deficit disorder, who have the patience to let its charm gradually unfold."[40]

The A.V. Club gave the album a C and called the Mars Volta "a band that excels when its sing-alongs double as freak-outs; on Octahedron, they’ve largely ditched the chaos in lieu of an admirable, albeit unsatisfying, experiment in being quiet."[41] The Austin Chronicle gave it one-and-a-half stars out of five and said, "'Cotopaxi' and 'Desperate Graves' are the Volta's most straightforward carbon-burners since Frances the Mute's 'Cygnus ... Vismund Cygnus' yet lack structure and memorable hooks, while the introductory ballad 'Since We've Been Wrong' soars closer to the Eagles than Led Zeppelin."[42]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by Cedric Bixler-Zavala, all music composed by Omar Rodríguez-López.

No. Title Length
1. "Since We've Been Wrong"   7:22
2. "Teflon"   5:06
3. "Halo of Nembutals"   5:32
4. "With Twilight as My Guide"   7:54
5. "Cotopaxi"   3:40
6. "Desperate Graves"   4:58
7. "Copernicus"   7:24
8. "Luciforms"   8:22

Song title origins[edit]

Charts[edit]

Chart (2009) Peak
position
Billboard 200[4] 12
Norwegian Albums Chart[43] 20
Finnish Albums Chart[44] 27
Swedish Albums Chart 51
UK Albums Chart[45] 64

Personnel[edit]

The Mars Volta[edit]

Additional musicians[edit]

Recording personnel[edit]

Artwork[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Page 7 of the album's booklet
  2. ^ a b http://www.reddit.com/r/tabled/comments/xjt5o/table_iama_bassist_for_the_mars_volta_juan/
  3. ^ a b Blood-Royale, Frederick. Artist 'n' Artist: Frederick Blood-Royale meets The Mars Volta drownedinsound.com. 2009-06-08. Retrieved on 2009-07-02.
  4. ^ a b July 2009 archives @ keelyskorner.com
  5. ^ a b http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/archives/2009/06/interview_omar.php
  6. ^ New Mars Volta album in July: News @ abc.net.au
  7. ^ New Mars Volta album in June: News @ stereokill.net
  8. ^ Mars Volta on New Album: "It's Mellow": News @ spin.com
  9. ^ The Mars Volta Biography themarsvolta.com. 2009. Retrieved on 2009-07-02.
  10. ^ Lentz, Andrew.All In The Mars Volta Familia drummagazine.com. September 2009. Retrieved on 2010-02-06.
  11. ^ http://www.nme.com/news/the-mars-volta/55423
  12. ^ The Mars Volta Chat To I Like Music | interviews | ilikemusic.com
  13. ^ forum.thecomatorium.com
  14. ^ Soprano Renée Fleming gets an indie makeover | Music | guardian.co.uk
  15. ^ Hottest Record - The Mars Volta - Coxtopaxi @ bbc.co.uk
  16. ^ Octahedron @ zaphod.uk.vvhp.net
  17. ^ Octahedron digipak preorder @ hmv.com
  18. ^ Intotheoctahedron.com
  19. ^ formspring.me/sargenthouse Retrieved on 2010-01-19.
  20. ^ Octahedron now available for pre-order on vinyl invisible-movement.net. 2009-07-05. Retrieved on 2009-11-23.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Critic reviews at Metacritic
  22. ^ Allmusic review
  23. ^ Drowned in Sound review
  24. ^ Entertainment Weekly review
  25. ^ a b Paste review
  26. ^ Pitchfork Media review
  27. ^ PopMatters review
  28. ^ Rolling Stone review at the Wayback Machine (archived June 26, 2009)
  29. ^ Slant Magazine review
  30. ^ Spin review
  31. ^ Sputnikmusic review
  32. ^ The New York Times review
  33. ^ The Boston Globe review
  34. ^ Planet Sound review at the Wayback Machine (archived June 20, 2009)
  35. ^ NME review
  36. ^ Tiny Mix Tapes review
  37. ^ musicOMH review
  38. ^ The Scotsman review
  39. ^ BBC Music review
  40. ^ Alternative Press review
  41. ^ The A.V. Club review
  42. ^ The Austin Chronicle review
  43. ^ VG Lista lista.vg.no. 2009-07. Retrieved on 2009-07-07. (Norwegian)
  44. ^ Suomen virallinen lista (Finnish)
  45. ^ Top 100 Albums Chart :: Chart Week Ending Date 04/07/09 theofficialcharts.com. 2009. Retrieved on 2009-07-01.

External links[edit]