The insanely prolific Omar Rodríguez-López blasts his peculiarity all over his thirteenth solo record in five years. He’s played on half a dozen albums this year alone, including The Mars Volta’s Octahedron and El Grupo Nuevo de Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s Cryptomnesia.
What sets Xenophanes apart from the rest is that this record features his own vocals at the forefront. Rodríguez-López uses his pipes like another instrument, infusing each note with heavy effects and tonal manipulation. He shares singing duties with the marvellous Ximena Sariñana and their similar styles give the record a peculiar, haunting quality.
Bassist Juan Alderete de la Peña (Racer X, The Mars Volta), drummer Thomas Pridgen (The Mars Volta), and multi-instrumentalist Marcellus Rodríguez-López, Omar’s younger brother, flesh out Rodríguez-López’s backing band for the record.
It’s Rodríguez-López’s blazing guitar and vocals that take centre-stage, however. This is a record of force, urgency and sonic violence. It is also, surprisingly, an exercise in scarcity and neatness. For the most part, he shies away from the long, overlapping guitar soloing and experimentation that many have come to know and instead sticks to songs with sharp structure and concision.
That’s not to say that Rodríguez-López has hung up his odd tendencies, of course, as Xenophanes is full of outrageous segments of sound.
“Ojo al Cristo de Plata,” which translates to “Beware of the Silver Christ,” is a beautiful, melodic track that makes excellent use of assorted bending and stretching effects. Pridgen’s drums drive and clatter in the wavering background and the piece feels like it’s floating in the middle of the ocean somewhere. Rodríguez-López and Sariñana connect superbly, too, mastering the song’s tempo shifts flawlessly.
The voices take the reigns once again on the funky, shifting “Asco Que Conmueve los Puntos Erógenos.” Rodríguez-López and Sariñana climb walls with their singing, increasing the tension over a hedge of sound propelled by Pridgen’s unrelenting playing and Rodríguez-López storming guitar.
Marcellus Rodríguez-López hits the keys on the jazzy “Mundo de Ciegos,” giving weight to one of the record’s catchiest pieces.
Xenophanes carries on with Rodríguez-López’s themes of religion and offers a sense of openness and melody throughout its 11 tracks. The strange beauty and luxury of strangeness is still present, of course, and all of the energy and fearlessness that makes him one of today’s most interesting and prolific musicians permeates every note.