Sunday With George: The Mars Volta- De-Loused in the Comatorium

Off the bat, yes— this technically a “prog-rock” album in which Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea is allowed to indulge his more flamboyant tendencies, aiding and abetting some (at the time) wild-haired young gentleman out of El Paso, whose love of The Stooges, Santana, and King Crimson was most likely, mathematically, and perfectly balanced.

That’s an outrageous run-on sentence up there, but as we’re talking about an outrageous run-on album, it’s only fitting, yeah?

I can remember where I was the first time I heard De-Loused in the Comatorium. I was in my dad’s office, and it was fairly late at night during the summer of 2006. I was 18, enjoying my last summer before I started college at “art school.” Plugged into Realplayer (remember them?) Rhapsody, I decided that I was finally going to give this band, “The Mars Volta”, a shot.

I was not without apprehension, in doing so.

A year previous, The Mars Volta had a mainstream breakthrough of sorts, when they released their second album, “Frances the Mute.”

Some of the songs garnered comparisons to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, but I saw one article ALSO lump them in with the “emo” zeitgeist that was H-O-T, at the time, so that meant I was out.

Had I dug a little deeper, I would have found out that The Mars Volta’s singer and guitar player made up one half of At The Drive In, who, like any kid that spent time at a skatepark in the early 2000s, I loved when they came out.

Alas, I didn’t, and I couldn’t do it because… “emo.”

In hindsight, that was silly. At that point, I saw emo music as, “the enemy.” To me, “emo”, was that garbage that the goofballs from New Trier (a band most people call Fall Out Boy) played. It’s what the kids who lived in the suburbs of Minneapolis listened to because the speaker systems at Zumiez in The Mall of America told them they should.

This shit had no guitar solos that I knew of, and these dudes all had some wack-ass haircuts.

To me at the time, “emo”, defined lowest-common-denominator-pop-radio-bullshit, and I couldn’t support.

To be clear, I feel very differently now. I’m now unabashed in my love of My Chemical Romance, and, “In Circles”, by Sunny Day Real Estate, allowed me grace in a dumpster-fire break-up a few years back.

Also, when, “Sugar We’re Going Down”, comes on the radio in 2020?

I’m turning that shit UP.

In any case, I eventually decided to give The Mars Volta a chance, because I’d started listening to King Crimson a few months earlier. When I saw someone write that The Mars Volta were one of a handful of bands carrying the torch for that kind of music in modern times, I figured I’d give them a shot.

Naturally, I fell in love with this album.

The first song, “Son Et Lumiere”, clocks in at just over at minute and a half, and has the distinction of being one of those rare introductions that stands on its own as a piece of music.

It’s also a fairly effective in summarizing the specifics of what’s to come: non-sensical lyricism, obtuse sound manipulation, math-y (if not manic) guitars, and a sense that is equal parts curiosity, foreboding, and anxiety.

On the surface, that might not sound particularly enticing, but it’s part of where the beauty is to be found here. What follows is an almost un-relenting sonic assault that lasts just over an hour— one that you can’t tear yourself away from.

“Inertiatic E.S.P.” is the first proper song on the album, one whose beginning is a clean segue from the previous track. It’s a rumbling blast of punk-math-prog bravado, featuring particular tremendous performances from drummer Jon Theodore, and singer, Cedric Bixler-Zavala who manages to hit peak-era Robert Plant notes all throughout.

What follows is a stream of songs that build upon a narrative ending in death, one that looks to the passing of Bixler-Zavala’s good friend, Julio Venegas.

Said narrative has been wildly abstracted mind you, and while some listeners might find that frustrating, I do believe it’s most certainly intentional.

This album is a piece of music that’s about loss. It can be unnerving, but you also can’t help but feel a sense of awe in hearing it.

The pain in this songs is a real thing. The sorrow, the mourning, it’s all real. You’d be lead to believe that the lyrical abstraction is so strong here, because facing the specifics of a friend’s death in a literal sense would be too raw, and too hurtful.

In most of these reviews, I feel compelled to in some ways talk about these songs, piece by piece. Here, something about that feels like a disservice to the music as a whole. The album CAN be listened to song by song, but it’s REALLY meant to be taken in, in one sitting.

In our ADD times, that’s a DIFFICULT thing to do.

Here, however, I do believe it’s a worthy journey.

This is a sonic adventure— one that is masterfully produced by Rick Rubin, and it features both Flea, and recently-returned Red Hot Chili Peppers guitar player John Frusciante.

It’s an album for a sound system, an album for meditation, an album for contemplation, and reflection.

With the world grinding to a halt in lieu of this pandemic, it’s something that you most likely have time for now.

I’d encourage you to give it a listen.

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