Friday, 13 April 2012

The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet

The change in style was apparent from the very first track; but then that wasn’t exactly surprising. The Mars Volta bring something new to each record they release, gaining new fans and losing a few disgruntled old-time fans along the way. What you can’t argue with is that each album has incredible musical merit, and Noctourniquet is no exception.

The Whip Hand is a seemingly gentle opener that suddenly bursts into an incredibly prominent synth bassline, unlike any TMV track I’d heard before. It’s a big impact track and it throws you straight in at the deep end of the album. The record uses synths more than in previous records, although The Whip Hand isn’t exactly representative of the rest of the album; while the synths do reappear, they take a more background role in most of the tracks. Initially I was disappointed by this as I enjoyed the twisted electronic style; but I then got down to listening to the other tracks on their own merit and was greeted by another work of genius.

It seems like while the whole album is pretty great, the best songs were thrown in at the start of the record. Aegis and Dyslexicon follow as tracks 2 and 3, and both possess hints of old Mars Volta and the new style. It sounds a bit more simplistic than previous work (though I doubt it’s that easy to play!) such as The Bedlam in Goliath; still my favourite TMV album, but that doesn’t take too much away from the quality.

Because the best three tracks are the opening three (in my opinion) it does make the rest of the tracks seem a little disappointing, but only relative to what’s gone before. Everything seems to calm down a bit after the opening, with the odd burst; and unfortunately it can be hard to keep focussed on the album, which is its biggest failing. All the tracks ARE good, but a few of the later ones serve best as background music, something previous works rarely had a problem with (except the final track of Amputechture)

If you buy the album, be aware that sound quality is not what it might be. Dynamic range is only 3 decibels on this album, which is bafflingly low. This is presumably an attempt to make the whole album sound more loud and ‘in your face’ or some odd cost cutting. All it means is there is only 3dB between the loud and soft sounds in the album; an average pop album has somewhere between 6 and 12dB. If you’re somebody who demands the highest quality sound then maybe this could be frustrating. Personally I have no great problem with it and can still enjoy the album, but it’d be interesting to know the thinking behind it.

Either way, it’s certainly worth a listen. If you’re new to The Mars Volta, I’d recommend starting with Deloused in the Comatorium or The Bedlam in Goliath, probably their best work; but this album is solid, and has some real standout tracks. The best thing as always are the constant adaptions and changes that always keep TMV fans guessing before an album is released, and keep their sound fresh and exciting.


Ewen Trafford

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