When you get to the level of worldwide success as a musician that Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has, it’s not unlikely you’ll form your own label and start from scratch, away from pushy label bosses and out-of-touch executives. Radiohead and Trent Reznor did it, Phil Elverum did it, hell, it looks like Grizzly Bear might even be doing it. I can imagine the plusses: no pressure, free reigns and all the artistic control you could ever dream of. However, with no administrative roof to hold in the possibly untameable ego that resides in most musicians’ heads, it’s easy to lose yourself in the game and overindulge, oversaturate and overthink everything.
Beck’s recent cover album endeavours on his website – while not exactly a whole label, but along the same lines – are an example of this kind of freedom going right. This album, one of many in a long line of artistic endeavours completely void of any control, is an example of it going bad.
If you haven’t heard this album before, take a look at the album art up there. It’s a riotous mess of colour and noise and abstract imagery that captures the sound of the album incredibly well. It’s like two paintings, isn’t it? Like someone’s come along to some prize winner and splattered something else over it. That’s basically what the album sounds like. Rodriguez-Lopez has taken everything he’s known for musically – complex rhythms, screeching, wah-filled guitars and wailed lyrics – and splattered something else over it, and it seems like that something else is whatever comes out of his head that day. Rodriguez-Lopez needs a blank canvas. Xenophanes plods along sounding like a Mars Volta, At The Drive-In and O R-L greatest hits all in one, doing nothing along the way to even try to differentiate itself from everything else he’s put his name to. There are some nice moments, sure; opening track “Azoemia” is a brilliant ambient opener, the guitar and drum sounds are great and the first 10 minutes of the album set you up nicely, suggesting some sort of progression. But everything else, in all of its bombastic, over-the-top glory, sounds exactly the same as everything he’s ever released before. There are no hooks, no great solos, no awesome riffs, nothing. Nothing to take away from the time you spend listening. It’s just a wall of noise. When a chance for redemption comes, it’s wasted. When a solo break shows itself, you get an uninspired wank.
And this isn’t the first time he’s done this, as this has happened before in his position at the head of The Mars Volta. Oversaturation can be good, and I’m sure Rodriguez-Lopez fans are loving it, but if this is what he’s spending all of his artistic control on, whats the point? How about a cover of Van Morrison’s Moondance in its entirety? How about producing a rap album? How about a 36-track instrumental album? How about something that hasn’t been done before a million times in your own discography?
So, if you’ve lasted this long in here, let me say this: If you’re a Mars Volta diehard who’s adored everything they’ve put out and everything else Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has put out, you’ll love this. If you’re just a fan in passing who’s looking for something new, well, there’s a new Spoon album out.