To give Xenophanes praise is to do disservice to what, up to this point, has been an unfuckwithable solo career on the part of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. The problem with ’Phanes is that, for the first time, he seems to be tinkering with making a Mars Volta album on his own; for a solo artist obsessed album-in and album-out with delivering a product alien to the mothership, this move represents a regression, a willingness to tread ground he’s covered, almost note-for-note.
For the first time, to my knowledge, he sings over the course of a full-length record, too. My question is, if he’s confident in his vocal prowess enough to build a record around it, why drown every refrain in miles of effects? Short of fuckin’ with that pitch-correction shit, he’s over-spicing like a hopped-up saucier, leaving a pale, emaciated holler that taints the more reasonably rippin’ jams and proves to be apt accompaniment for the lesser ones. More from O-Rod is/should be expected; he’s proven time and again that he can ascend when given the keys to a studio and a few miles of tape to burn off.
I’m not going to catalog a timeline of Rodriguez-Lopez’ past releases for you. It would take all day and my jeans are preventing me from wanting to sprout an absolute BONER, which is what will happen if I start delving into A Manual Dexterity and Despair. I also don’t want to get into the whole Mars Volta pro-and-con sausage-toss with you because, first off, the TMT “Debates” page is up and running, and secondly, I’m fucking sick of THINKING about the viability of The Mars Volta (it’s obviously there amid the static). All that said, if you rated Bedlam in Goliath a 2/5, Xenophanes will be in the 1/5 area for you (which is where I’ve put it), because it’s a pale reflection of what The Mars Volta achieve with ease.
If you collect this guy, then by all means pick it up, but Xenophanes is a total letdown if you’re even a casual fan of this ridiculous guitarist, producer, songwriter, and, you know, dance-around-the-stage-with-ants-in-yr-pants-style guy. I’ve listened to it countless times trying to find a thread of interest, a morsel of music that compels me, and I’ve found a few nuggets here and there like “Asco Que Conmueve Los Puntos Erógenos,” where the boredom fades and glimmers of hope emerge, in this case in the form of Egyptian-style guitar patterns and better-than-par rhythms guiding the procession along. They are but isolated moments, however. From the instant “Azoemia” leads off to the limp finale of “Maria Celeste,” a tried-true listener with experience in these matters will know something’s wrong, something that, perhaps, releasing 4-or-so albums every calendar year won’t help. With Zach Hill reaching such euphoric highs with every new project, it would be a shame to see one of his only equals — in terms of release frequency — begin a slide into mediocrity with Xenophanes.