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coverpic flag US - California - Full Moon 140 - 02/21/08

The Mars Volta
The Bedlam in Goliath

Conservative is a word difficult to digest to the average Mars Volta fan. Then again what better way to describe the more reserved song structure and inherently subdued song-lengths on The Bedlam in Goliath when compared to the astronomically excessive previous canon? Such a word would suggest that they are an actual rock-and-roll band with some allusion to the McCarthy/Elvis-era preconceptions of those terms. They're nothing of the sort, which is lowest the common denominator of any bands worth caring about in the internet age. Such contradictions may be the bane and pride of the Volta as they age tumultuously past the point of being merely an unnecessary collective spawned from the collapse of a much lauded, short-lived musical goldmine with intricate meaninglessness, subdued sprawling, and the very internal musical argument within progressive punk rock.

The sporadic and tenacious rhythms of this record hark back to the chaos theory of 2005's Frances The Mute as opposed to the dinosaur rock musings of 2006's Amputechture. In fact, the obstacles of Goliath are confusing because they are half the reason to really love the Volta-such as the amount of difficulty that comes with distinguishing the pieces of Goliath's intricate and seemingly infinite puzzle. On Frances this task was far more intimidating yet so much more delightful of a melodic conquest for the listener. This record's potential listeners are asked to accept a band that writes singles and epics all in twelve unique and separate punches thus striking a heartless blow to the casual AOR-puritan. To put this into context, it's as if the quick pulse chorus-to-refrain conversation of the album's opening track, "Aberinkula" claims to be as easily swallowed as "Communication Breakdown" but the song clocks in noticeably longer than "Stairway to Heaven".

That conundrum is, for all intents and purposes, a worthy one for a band that sufficiently claims formidable stake in some art-rock competition against some prog-rock purgatory. Simultaneously, how can this be accepted from a lyrical palette that nearly feigns meaninglessness for petty attempts at cryptic imagery they've so formerly championed? Impossible. It's also impossible to fathom the imagined language that contains the syntax of some of these song titles. At least a group like Sigur Ros will have the nobility to tell us they've invented their own language beforehand. Nevertheless this isn't (and this is an improvement since the last record) your dad's prog-rock band. Songs like "Cavalettas" and "Goliath" bring punk's blitzkrieg intimidation and legitimacy to the forefront with enough respect to the band's former genre not to convert any more of the aesthetic.

Even if you're not crying out for the delay of some inevitable At The Drive-In reunion, there's still plenty of cross words to be had at the expense of The Bedlam in Goliath. Its dissection takes more effort than what can be deemed a worthwhile or efficient venture, even if it's creators have made a more overt effort towards pursuing a song-based record. To lament on this is vain, because this is the band you asked for when accepting the terms of their debut; a band whose sheer existence is their own paradox.

Copyright © 2008 Matthew DeMello e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Mars Volta article/review: Amputechture.

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