When At the Drive In broke up, leading members Omar Rodríguez-López and vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala made a left turn so surprising that many were uncertain. However, it worked, in spades actually and The Mars Volta became one of the great post rock, almost demented jam bands of the early 2000’s. Today we discuss the bands ten best songs, and try to make sense of it all. Enjoy, and wish me luck!
10. ABERINKULA, THE BEDLAM IN GOLIATH
One of the best mechanisms the band has is the ability to whirlwind this retro avant-garde prog rock with a type of trippy Spanish influences. Over and over again they mix the two to become a band that is as creative as they are free wielding shape shifters. This track is a perfect example of that artistry. It’s King Crimson meets Santana, and that mythological influence captivates everything in the song.
9. VISCERA EYES, AMPUTECHRE
Drawing an audience has never been a problem for this band, but I doubt they care immensely. This gives the band cause to do whatever they want. “Viscera Eyes” is a perfect example of that. Mixing Spanish and English lyrics captures both sides of the band while still expanding their sound. At over nine minutes in length, it’s another in a long line of adventurous tracks that make you feel like a fever dream setting out for your prize.
8. CICATRIZ ESP, DELOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM
Quite a few of these selections come off the seminal full length record, and all these years later the album is still mesmerizing, along with this song which finds us at number eight. It’s got quite the drum beat, but the real show is the guitar work, which I think was done by Frusciante of the RHCP. It has this middle section that welcomes the calm before the storm, then welcomes the storm itself while Baxter screams “defender.” It’s a powerful moment for sure, and a great song to boot.
7. TETRAGRAMMATON, AMPUTECHRE
Easily the longest track to make this list, this sixteen minute journey exemplifies how the band delves into otherworldly grooves and hooks and never looks back. It meanders between weird Latin infused arrangements while embracing the prog rock nature of the band itself. At this point in the band’s career they were basically operating freely and away from normal operating procedures for most successful bands. Trusting their instincts and making something that is wide ranging yet thought provoking is what got them to where they ended up, so why not keep trusting it?
6. TEFLON, OCTAHEDRON
I remember hearing this song when they album released, and quite frankly it had me spellbound. It’s hypnotic and captivating in leaps and bounds. The swerving mechanics bringing forth the twilight zone-sequel instrumental section, while again the vocals roam like a once caged but now free animal. It’s curious and darkly mesmerizing and it’s one of their best, weirdly mid tempo classic. It’s even better to experience live, as I did finally at Bonnaroo 2009.
5. INERTIATIC ESP, DELOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM
Maybe their best known song, but also their mass welcome to the music world at large. It starts with a bang and doesn’t let up for the entirety of nearly four minutes and thirty seconds. The drumming, coupled with the madness of the screeching guitar make it a truly dynamic song. Much of the vocals and words are non sensibility, but that finds its way into this band pretty often. It honestly works though. Sometimes, for certain songs I feel like the lyrical content isn’t as important as the overall quality of the song. But, this is part of where they thrive. We don’t have to understand everything.
4. METATRON, THE BEDLAM IN GOLIATH
I’ve used this before to describe this band, but the wild , free wielding nature is one of the best attributes of the Mars Volta. Strange unorthodox soundscapes lay the groundwork for a song that’s as heavy and verbose as anything the band has ever done. Much of the lyrical content is jumbled into an abstract context, but the real winner here is the drum work, I believe by Jon Theodore( they change members quite often) is electric and pummeling all at the same time. It’s one of the best aspects of the song, and it helps “Metatron” land at number four in the countdown.
3. ROULETTE DARES(THE HAUNT OF), DELOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM
Many songs on “Deloused” are navigations into uncertain waters, but “Roulette Dares” actually ends up being one of the more straightforward, albeit jammy tracks on the record. The gradual opening begins with drums and off the wall guitar renderings, but with an explosion of other instruments joining the fold, the song becomes more epic than any other song found in this countdown. Cedric's vocals are strong and soaring, but he’s also able to bring it down a notch when needed. Honestly the contrast between the two vocal stylings show how powerful and capable he is as a vocalist, and the song is better because of it.
2. THE WIDOW, FRANCES THE MUTE
After a huge debut like the band had, it was somewhat expected for most fans to be underwhelmed by what they cooked up next. It’s not because of the end product is bad, but rather I think it had to do with the length of the album and how many of the songs seemed to be one big long piece that had to be played as one. Thankfully, the second track on the album,”The Widow,” is a song that hides hardly any mystery and has few drastic changes throughout. This juxtaposition helps the album to find some common ground in its arrangement. It’s more of a straight ahead track than what the band is known for, but it also ends up being one of the best the band has ever recorded. The agony in Cedrics voice is obvious, and with all the other parts working together the song is able to become profound and ultimately engaging and rich.
1. TELEVATORS, DELOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM
I’m not sure when this ended up being my favorite song by this band, but during the years I ended up falling in love with this band “TELEVATORS” always stood out to me as an imperfect masterpiece. It’s weirdly arranged but still maintains a more linear songwriting approach than many of their other contributions. The slowly building background sections are gorgeously layered, and when Baxter suggests that “the chalk outline will circle this city,” you get the feeling he’s weapons for a divisive culture on the edge of collapse. It’s a sobering song in a heap of exploratory songs that shows that the band isn’t all weird and alien like. In the end it ends up being the band’s best overall song, which is why it ends our countdown at number one. Thanks for reading, I hoped you enjoyed!
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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