The Mars Volta / Octahedron / Warner
Touted as The Mars Volta’s “acoustic record,” Octahedron, the band’s fifth studio album, definitely marks a return to the basics. That doesn’t mean they’ve ditched the cryptic lyrics and dumbfounding instrumentals; no, these are integral pieces of the prog-puzzle for a band, like TMV, that releases records more like sci-fi film scores than rock albums. Instead, the group has trimmed down its usually sprawling tracks into more focused shorter pieces. Deloused in the Comatorium had “Televators,” Frances The Mute had “The Widow,” well, Octahedron has a wide selection of deeply moving and beautiful tracks from Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler-Zavala including “Since We’ve Been Wrong,” “Teflon” and “Copernicus.” And, despite claims at acousticity, all the regulars are present on the album including Thomas Pridgren returning on drums, Ikey Owens on keys, Juan Alderete on bass, and even John Frusciante on guitar. With the full effect, the band shines more than ever.
Download: “Copernicus”, “Desperate Graves”
Taking Back Sunday / New Again / Warner
Taking Back Sunday’s latest is a slow starter. They start off by letting us know they want to be “New Again” on the album opening title track – unfortunately the fresh start they want turns out stale. “Summer, Man,” the fourth track in, is where some of the old edge starts creeping back into their sound and by the next track, “Swing,” the lackluster start is all but forgotten. “Cut Me Up Jenny” features singer Adam Lazzara’s vocal and lyrical trademarks that longtime fans will instantly recognize – lovelorn screams and clever/obvious wordplay (“I took full advantage of being taken full advantage of”). The thumping “Carpathia,” another one from the boys full of breakup metaphors, features a bitching distorted solo early in the song. TBS might pride themselves on being ‘new again’ but they still sound best sticking to their old style.
Download: “Cut Me Up Jenny”, “Carpathia”
The Fiery Furnaces / I’m Going Away / Thrill Jockey
With I’m Going Away, The Fiery Furnaces try to produce a concept album for the masses. Songs have all the titular characters and instrumental motifs of a typical concept album, but in radio-friendly song lengths. Furnaces songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Matthew Friedberger holds down the vast majority of vocal duties on I’m Going Away, as opposed to passing the lyrics off to his bandmate and sister Eleanor as he frequently did in the past. “Staring at the Steeple” liberally borrows the bass riff from Sabbath’s “N.I.B.”, but generally, in terms of vocals and arrangements, I’m Going Away sounds like an upbeat Queen album. Sugary verses slide into jangley choruses, but Friedberger, apparently not content with this pop formula, makes some interesting, and occasionally unfortunate, choices with his guitar solos found towards the end of most tracks. These frenetic sections change straightforward pop tracks into bizarre tempo-altering jazz experiments. They almost ruin tracks like “Cups and Punches” or “Charmaine Champagne” (where an obnoxious high frequency quacking sound overwhelms for about twenty seconds) but add some welcome depth to standout tracks “Keep Me in Dark” and “Ray Bouvier”.
Download: “Ray Bouvier”, “Keep Me in Dark”