Friday, 25 October 2019

The Mars Volta - Thirteen Seconds (2008)

The story of The Mars Volta is a rather strange one from my perspective, as I'll admit from the start that I've never been a great fan of At The Drive-In, even though their 2000 album 'Relationship Of Command' is generally regarded as a high-point in indie rock, and in theory they should be exactly the sort of band that I liked in the early noughties. So when Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala left At The Drive-In to form their own band I never gave them a second thought - until I heard a track from 'Deloused In The Comatorium' on the radio. I don't remember which track it was, and it doesn't really matter, but it was exactly the sort of prog/indie/experimental music that I was into, and I bought the album the same week. Apparently there were always strained relationships in At The Drive-In, with Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler-Zavala being unhappy with the mainstream direction the band was taking, and so they quit in 2001 to experiment with their dub-influenced side-project De Facto, but with the addition of Eva Gardner on bass and Blake Fleming on drums they recorded two tracks which would become the first demo for The Mars Volta. Jon Theodore replaced Fleming on drums, and with former De Facto members Isaiah Owens on keyboards and Jeremy Ward on sound manipulation joining the band, they recorded their first EP 'Tremulant', which was released in early 2002. 
Following 'Tremulant', The Mars Volta continued touring with a fluid line-up while preparing to record their debut full-length album 'De-Loused in the Comatorium', produced with Rick Rubin and released in 2003. Whereas 'Tremulant' had no general theme, the album was a unified work of speculative fiction telling the first-person story of someone in a drug-induced coma, battling the evil side of his mind. The Mars Volta had no official bassist during the recording session, but Flea (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) played bass on nine of the album's ten songs, with Justin Meldal-Johnsen playing double bass on 'Televators'. A permanent replacement was found in Juan Alderete, but then during a tour with The Red Hot Chili Peppers in support of the album, founding member Jeremy Michael Ward died of a heroin overdose. The band cancelled the tour's second leg, and the first single from the album was later dedicated to Ward. As the band resumed touring, they added Marcel Rodríguez-López (Omar's brother) on percussion, and work on their second album began in 2004. 
'Frances the Mute' was another concept album, with the story based on a diary that had been found in a repossessed car by late sound technician Jeremy Ward, while working as a repo-man. The author of the diary is unknown but appeared to be someone who was adopted and was searching for their birth parents, and who may have suffered from mental illness caused by the death of a loved one. The lyrics for each track on the album are loosely based on characters and life events described in this person's diary. Several songs written during the original recording sessions for the album never made the final cut, most notably, the self-titled 14-minute epic 'Frances the Mute', which was originally intended to open the album, and was ultimately supposed to decode the album's concept, but was not included due to time constraints. 
After finishing the tour for 'Frances the Mute' in 2005, Rodríguez-López traveled to Amsterdam and wrote what became 'Amputechture', the band's third album, which was released in 2006. It was once again a concept album, but rather than telling a story, this album was a series of vignettes, with each song telling a different story. Red Hot Chili Pepper's guitarist John Frusciante played on nearly all of the album, except for 'Asilos Magdalena', and Rodríguez-López contributed the solos and riffs where the guitar work needed to be doubled. In 2006, Blake Fleming returned to fill the drummer slot, after Jon Theodore was fired, but he didn't last long and was soon replaced by Thomas Pridgen in 2007, and this line-up recorded their fourth album, 'The Bedlam in Goliath'. Despite finding a permanent drummer and getting the band back on track, the recording and production of the album was reportedly plagued by difficulties related to a bad experience with a Ouija board purchased in a curio shop in Jerusalem. According to Rodríguez-López, their original engineer experienced a nervous breakdown, his studio flooded twice, and both he and mixer Rich Costey claimed that various tracks would disappear at random. 
Their fifth album 'Octahedron', was issued in 2009, and 'Noctourniquet' followed in 2012, and then it was all over for the band, with Rodríguez-López deciding to put the Mars Volta on hold to fully concentrate on his new project, Bosnian Rainbows. In August 2013, a collection of unreleased songs, demos, alternate versions, and in-studio jams roughly spanning from 2005 until the 'Noctourniquet' sessions was leaked online, with the source remaining unknown. However, that's not what we have here, which is a collection of studio recordings which didn't make the albums, such as the 'Frances The Mute' title song, the full 'Tremulant' EP, some choice covers from Siouxsie And The Banshees, Pink Floyd, The Circle Jerks, Soft Machine, The Sugarcubes, and Nick Drake which came out on b-sides, as well as some hard to find bonus tracks from Japanese issues of their albums. I know that this music is something of an acquired taste if you are new to the band, so if that's the case then you are better off starting with 'Deloused In The Comatorium' and 'Frances The Mute', but for fans of the group I can guarantee that there's an abundance of treasures here. It's a long album, at just over an hour, but then us fans should be used to that by now from this band, and if there's enough interest I can post the 2013 bootleg later, although it is very bitty, and is only for the real fanatic.

Track listing

01 Cut That City (from the 'Tremulant' EP 2002)
02 Concertina (from the 'Tremulant' EP 2002)
03 Eunuch Provocateur (from the 'Tremulant' EP 2002)
04 Back Up Against The Wall (free download of Circle Jerks cover 2007)
05 Ambuletz (bonus track on Japanese 'De-Loused In The Comatorium' 2003)
06 Candy And A Currant Bun (hybrid vinyl/CD single - Pink Floyd cover 2008)
07 Frances The Mute (b-side of 'The Widow' 2005)
   - In Thirteen Seconds
   - Nineteen Sank, While Six Would Swim
   - Five Would Grow And One Was Dead
08 Pulled To Bits (b-side of 'Wax Simulcra' - Siouxsie & The Banshees cover 2007)
09 The Bible And The Breathalizer (single 2005)
10 Memories (Soft Machine cover from Japanese 'The Bedlam In Goliath' 2008)
11 Things Behind The Sun (Nick Drake cover from Japanese 'The Bedlam In Goliath' 2008) 
12 Mr Muggs (planchette-shaped vinyl disc free with 'The Bedlam In Goliath' 2008)
13 Birthday (Sugarcubes cover from Japanese 'The Bedlam In Goliath' 2008)

1 comment:

  1. Hi PJ I'm really enjoying The Mars Volta, Thanks a lot.