Album Reviews

The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet REVIEW (2012)

Mars Volta - NotourniquetThe Mars Volta was never very accessible to the average listener, and Noctourniquet is certainly no exception. In fact, it may be even less accessible in some respects. I usually ease myself into a new Volta record by identifying the tracks that have a few clear grooves or melodies. Yes, they exist (see: “Inertiatic ESP”, “L’Via L’Viaquez”, “Wax Simulacra”). I found myself struggling to find such points on Noctourniquet, and upon first listen I didn’t care for it at all.

I held off on my review for a night, then listened again the next day. For some reason I was more intrigued the second time around.

First off, Noctourniquet is a pretty different sound for an already different-sounding band. That can of course be a good thing, but I’m not totally convinced here. The songs are more synth-heavy, and much more ambient than past releases. I even thought the 2nd track “Aegis” was a Radiohead song left off of Hail to the Thief for a minute.

Most of the tracks sound just as chaotic as you’d expect, but they lack much of the guitar rock element. The result is a lower-key, thoughtful album. There is certainly intensity within the songs but it’s more of a situational (or “building”) intensity, rather than the in-your-face craziness. I also found myself growing impatient with the drawn out intros and the seemingly unnecessary weirdness.

But that kind of sums up my beef with latter day Mars Volta anyway: the chaotic-ness of their debut was fascinating, and the songs still rocked and grooved. Now it has morphed into a self-indulgent soundscape of crazy drums, guitar effects, and mumbling (or squealing) vocal lines. The track “Molochwalker” is probably the hardest rocking of the bunch, but it doesn’t offer anything as interesting and diverse as the songs on De-loused

Last year I caught their set while waiting to shoot photos for Soundgarden. It was probably a prog musician’s heaven to watch them play (and I love a lot of prog rock), but to me it was just a bunch of long drawn-out crazy jam sessions. After the first 2 songs, I got bored quickly.

Bottom Line: There are no tracks on this current release that will melt your face or anything… it’s a good dreamscape kind of record if you’re in the mood for it. Personally I’ve had enough with the abundance of sound effects and insane drum patterns. Their last record (2009’s Octahedron) was a very different sound for them as well, except there are a bunch of songs that I love from that album. Not so much here. Hardcore Volta fans will be happy though!

Rating: 7/10

Categories: Album Reviews

34 replies »

  1. I have to disagree with this review. Reviews in general really make me irrate, because every persons opinion will always differ. Anyway, i personally find this to be one of their strongest releases. I have always been a huge TMV fan, but really fell off after ochtohedron. This album however caught me at the first listen. The vocal lines are stronger than anything cedric has done, in my opinion. The fourth song on the album is quite possibly one of my favorite mars volta songs ever.

    It’s definately different, but i love the change. And so long as they are still releasing music, and not going the route of 80’s genesis, i dont think anyone can complain 🙂

    All that being said i fucking hate album reviewers. Everyones opinion is different, so really, WTF is the point of anyone reading this.Or my comment for that matter. I find everything you said to be completely untrue in my mind, and this will end up just instilling in someones mind what it SHOULD sound like.

    • You said it yourself… “everyone’s opinion is different”. Thanks for voicing yours. In my mind, the point of album reviews is to spark conversation and debate. Which is why we allow comments. I’m not interested in making people agree with me. Glad you dig the record!

  2. Dude, you have no idea what you’re talking about. This is by far one their best albums. It takes a good band to change their sound every album (while touring), and produce a better one following it. These guys are constantly touring and writing music, whether with solo projects or as TMV, and “pull it off” every time. I like they way they explore new techniques and styles while keeping the same psychedelic sound that they’re known for. This album proves all the above! I rarely get hooked the first time that I listen to a new album, however, I can’t put this one down…I’m looking forward to the next few months of jammin’ “noctourniquet” till it gets old..if it does at all. Give it another shot bro, put down your Death Cab for Cutie cd’s for the love of Pete Rose.

    Sincerely,
    The Better Critic

    • Thanks for your response. Everyone has their opinion, and this was mine. I also admire that people are passionate enough to get offended when someone’s opinion doesn’t match theirs. You are exactly the last sentence of my review 🙂

      And for the record, I don’t own a single Death Cab song.

      • OK Clay, if that’s even your real name. Don’t write a review about a band you aren’t familiar with. I’d expect something more entertaining from Bill Cosby himself. Whether you like the album or not isn’t important. You failed to mention that it is a “concept” album, like most of their previous albums. The concept is from a nursery rhyme by Solomon Grundy, and each track is significant in each stage of the story. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

        -The Better Critic

        P.S. I’m taking your job.

      • First off, I enjoy how you question my name when you post as Bob Dole.

        Secondly… your point? Mentioning that it’s yet another concept album has nothing to do with reviewing the record. If you want facts, look it up on Wiki.

        But thanks for playing!

  3. I feel the same way as the reviewer. I am a long time Volta fan, and I was a bit let down by this record. I certainly hope this isn’t their last album because I think in the long run this album will have its place in the Volta catalog but I hope it’s not the last impression this band leaves us with. I too picked up on the Radiohead vibe as well. After listening to the album the second time it grew on me a little, but all the things I liked about TMV were not there, but maybe that’s the whole point. I thought Octahedron was supposed to be their “soft” album, so I was surprised when I heard this one. I’m not knocking this record either. It’s just not what I was expecting, time will tell if that’s a good thing.

    -Paul

    • I don’t follow TMV as much as many, so I find it odd that Octahedron was supposed to be their “soft album”. I could believe that when it came out, but this is much more low-key to me. The difference is that the songwriting on Octahedron still got my attention, and a number of those songs I love (“Teflon” being one of my favorite TMV songs they’ve ever done). This batch of songs I could easily do without. I felt the same way about the last Radiohead record, and I consider them my favorite band of all time. Just showing that I’m trying to be fair with my thoughts… rather than loving everything blindly.

      • In reference to the point about Octahedron… I remember when that record was coming out there was a lot of talk about how it was their “acoustic” record. Acoustic in the sense that it wasn’t as electric as their other releases. When this record was being hyped for its release there was a lot of talk about how there was a lot of electronic influence, I guess it could be if having a single synth on a track is considered electronic. These new songs feel sorta empty, the build ups and ambience lead to nothing most times or something uninspired. I too could have done without this release.

  4. I agree with Clay in every way, half of the CD is unlistenable. This is coming from a dedicated Volta fan that owns everything from De-loused to Octahedron and liked all of them except this.

    The drumming is just weird and distant. It’s like he’s phoning it in on some songs. The guitar is equally unbalanced and the lyrics don’t seem to follow any logical course or narrative like the others. They said in the fan questions they wanted to make this CD more approachable but I think Omar missed the boat completely.

    All of that being said, I kept “Zed and Two Naughts”, “Molochwalker” and “Aegis” as they are the most distinct of the album.

    • I’m glad at least some people agree with me! I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s unlistenable, but it’s my least favorite in their catalog. TMV has been phenomenal about picking replacement drummers (when you thought no one could keep up)… and this guy is a really good drummer… but there’s nothing that states his style here. It’s like he was trying to fit whatever TMV wanted to do, rather than leave his mark on it. Pridgen wasn’t the original drummer, but you sure as fuck know when he’s playing.

      • I’m sorry, but you can’t have been listening to the drums enough to say that Deantoni Parks doesn’t state his style on this Album. The complexities of the patterns and rhythms he plays on tracks like ‘Zed and Two Naughts’, ‘Lapochka’ and ‘Noctourniquet’ are completely unlike what Pridgen or any other TMV drummer has done before and for me really and a layer of detail to this album. If anything, this is the first time I have actually noticed any of the drumming on a TMV album!

  5. We’re half and half on the agree/disagree posts. Perfect. Keep it coming guys! I’m honestly fascinated to hear if people agree with me or think I’m an idiot. My point of view comes from the middle: I love crazy prog rock, and I love simple poppy stuff. Doesn’t matter what genre, as long as it’s done right. A good track is a good track. But I’m not afraid to say what I think, regardless who I’m talking about. Radiohead would be my favorite band of all time, but I sort of trashed their last record. Just wasn’t there… and that’s how I feel with this one.

  6. Get a real job. Your destroying the value of currency by getting paid to pretend you know anything about anything, and that others should value reading what you think.

    And that goes for any critic of anything

    • Not the most relevant or intelligent response, but thanks for weighing in Pablo! a) you read it, b) what’s a “real” job to you?, and c) who told you I was getting paid? Maybe I do this because I’m passionate about music.

      • You: “Not the most relevant or intelligent response, but thanks for weighing in Pablo! a) you read it, b) what’s a “real” job to you?, and c) who told you I was getting paid? Maybe I do this because I’m passionate about music.”

        Me: So true! Good job,dude!

        You: “Oh, and use the correct “you’re” next time”

        Me: You had to go and ruin it Clay… he doesn’t care! Being a prescriptive stickler doesn’t make you right, what you said the first time does.

        Anyway, fair enough with the review. I really felt the same when i listened to it the first few times or at least the songs that struck me – tracks 1,2,3,5,6 and 7. I’m really surprised people aren’t talking more about ‘Lapochka’, I loved that straight away…? I’ve really got into the album now and, for me, it’s just as good as the last two but it doesn’t quite match the solidity of awesome songs that Amputechture and it’s predecessors had as I feel that Octohedron, Bedlam and Noctourniquet fade towards the end. Thanks
        – Henry

      • You’re right, I overstepped a bit with that comment 🙂

        I also agree that those releases sort of start strong and don’t hold until the end. I’m not a die hard fan, I don’t worship everything they’ve done, and I don’t pretend to “get it” all. My favorite is still their first record, and subsequent ones had lots of good tracks. I’m just struggling to appreciate this new one like I do the others.

  7. Hello there!
    I’m listening it for the third time and i gotta say i’m really diggin’ it. big fan of their first two albums. also big fan of xenophanes and the acoustic stuff omar as been crafting outside TMV. and i gotta say, when it comes to TMV it’s always good to give every record a couple of chances – months later, if necessary. TMV is one of those projects that’s around to break barriers, to go a little bit further – in that sense, much like Radiohead. They’re doing it Zappa-style. it won’t always be easy but every record is actually part of an artistic purpose – and please don’t take this as some pseudo-intellectual shit of any kind: i believe some artists are just brave enough to keep on going further. The fact that some people like it and some don’t but we can actually discuss it is cool. they’re not consensual and that’s wonderful – who needs another guns n’ roses or, god forgives, u2?

    anyway, keep reviewing stuff and by god if you can’t educate them, just tell them to fuck off. it’s the internet and the 21st century. it’s about time people grew up and enjoy democracy for its most beautiful thing: to debate before agreeing.

  8. I love this album, its tough to digest and has many amazing moments. I’m surprised so many fans are ambivalent about this release considering it still has that classic volta sound. For me its better with every listen.

  9. Hm i really expected something better, yeah the sound changed, the efffects are cool but the guitar is missing… im a TMV hardcore fan lol…but still… somehow i feel Octahedron has a better balance on its progression, this album (Noctourniquet) honestly, is good but is not what i expected, considering Octahedron was their “acoustic” work… i were hoping for something totally unexpected like the old TMV, seems the band is evolvin and you can hear that in this album, but that doesnt means is the best album they’ve released… De-loused, Frances the mute, are still in the top list…Octahedron is special on its own way…but this.. seems to be another “good” album from TMV… there are just a few of songs can really compete with those giants…but they’re not in this album…

    P-S Junkies gonna love this album just because the “crazyness” or how cool they think is to listen a new TMV album… but is so far to be a TMV album…Musicians will understand what im saying

    • ‘something totally unexpected, like the old TMV’

      Surely I can’t be the only one baffled by this phrase?!

      • lol, my bad, i mean unexpected in a positive way, like that feeling u get when u’re listening to TMV for the first time, this album cant be that shocking and mind blowing like the others… we’re used to a different kind of experimentation when it comes about TMV… this album is …just good…not more, not less…

  10. Solid review, man. I’m also glad someone finally mentioned something about the drumming not being very stylistic. I saw TMV as Omar Rodriguez Lopez Group a little less than a year ago, and while Deantoni is undoubtedly a great drummer, he just doesn’t have a very distinct style, in my opinion. It all seemed pretty square and robotic to me. While Jon Theodore will always be my favorite drummer, and the drummer I think TMV was at their peak with, I would even rather have heard Thomas Pridgen’s chaos on this album. It is always a challenge to review their albums, since compared to most of the music out lately, they are always going to be amazing by comparison. Yet, this album definitely falls short compared to their previous work.

    My personal ranking now would probably be:
    1. Deloused
    2. Frances
    3. Bedlam
    4. Octahedron
    5. Amputechture
    6. Noctourniquet

    Not a bad album at all, just not nearly as good as their past efforts.
    Just my opinion.

    • Theodore is my favorite too… just love that guy’s style, and Pridgen owned his parts when he played with TMV. Deantoni is a great drummer, he’s just not filling the big shoes here in my opinion. I don’t know if that’s just him, or if it’s a band direction.

  11. Fair review, even if I do disagree!

    I will admit with my first listen I was not impressed, I was surprised with the synth sounds they added, it just seemed… out of place. But they are progressive rock after, so it’s good to see them continually evolving.

    However, the more I listen, the more I like it – I see this as a sign of great music. Each song has it’s time to shine to different individuals. Everyone is different, has different opinions on what’s good or not blah blah.

    I’m with Steve above. Thanks for the review.

  12. As a fellow music reviewer: get off the man’s nuts. He’s doing what he loves and you don’t have to listen to him.

    However I disagree in part with the review. With the exception of a few songs (The Whip Hand, Malkin Jewel, Zed and Two Naughts) very little stuck with me on the first listen. However each successive run through reveals more gems, giving me the same feeling as I had with Amputechture – the band’s other “controversial” album. It will be one that will continually surprise over the coming months I am sure

    Keep it up anyway, Clay. It is a well written review. Persevere!

  13. Here’s a review from Switzerland, guys, yep, that’s right, we don’t have chocolate and cheese only 😉 For me, this new album falls way short of the others, especially Frances…I might be more of a mainstreamer if you like, listening to stuff like Arena, It Bites, or, occasionally, when it gets to me, to Sunn O))) or Mastodon. That’s probably why Noctourniquet doesn’t get to me at all. There’s some “efforts” in the direction of “real songwriting” to be heard, as in “Noctourniquet” or “Zed….”, but some of the stuff really seems to me like Let’s-try-whatever-comes-to-mind-and-release-it stuff. Maybe Omar works a bit too much, but I think the songs and the singing style start to repeat themselves too often. Not much variety and surprises left as in older records when you could never know what to expect from a song in the next minute…

    Sorry for my bad English, but I’m a German native speaker and hope this resembles English in some ways 😉

    Jurg

    • “Let’s-try-whatever-comes-to-mind-and-release-it”… Exactly~ that’s what i heard there ._. sadly… i mean, yeah i still like TMV but considering that their last album before Noctourniquet, was in the 2009, and its considered their acoustic album, of course we were waiting for something bigger than this… Its like orange juice, we were used to natural orange juice, it tasted nice, now its artificial orange juice, it stills tastes good, but there’s something missing, is no the same… that’s how i feel about this album.~