Reviews: Omar Rodriguez Lopez + I Was Totally Destroying It

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Omar Rodriguez Lopez, Telesterion (Rodriguez Lopez)
The uber-prolific ORL (At The Drive-In, The Mars Volta) comes out of left field with this 2-CD 37-song compendium that draws from 17 albums. His canon includes more than 40 albums in a sixteen-year career! And defying all marketing logic he’s also releasing this as a 4-LP set (including an extra song!). In some ways, ORL is like a new millennium Frank Zappa, a somewhat misunderstood, self-perpetuating cottage industry recording and marketing music of his own choosing regardless of commercial trends or even conventional taste. He’s also doing film work, and when he finds time to sleep is anyone’s guess.

Those who have heard any of his previous records knows, more or less, what to expect in the way of high energy, tripped out, wiry guitar-centered, post-post-punk and rock en espanol, but it’s the delving deeper into the roots of that sound that makes for the most fascinating part of his musical make-up. The songs capture such a wide swath of influences that it’s impossible to lay a label on any of them, except to say they are wayward aural travelers with numerous traveling companions they’ve met along the way from various lands and continents. The intensity level is usually way up high, and there are a lot of songs that engage you incessantly with complex, interlocking, overloaded dendrites of information. And after an hour straight it’s overwhelming and somewhat exhausting, but it’s usually worth the trouble to take the trip all the way to the finish line.

A case in point is “Coma Pony,” which is Zappa-esque in its timeless guitar shredding and its connection to the amplifier atmospherics of the 70s guitar gods. Latin influences abound all over the landscape on ORL’s albums, and a good example of how he makes it all whole is found on the excellent “Deus Ex Machina,” which includes what sounds like some weird tunings and some odd vocals effects. “No Hay Mas Respuestas” is another exceptional song with a dynamite female vocal part from Ximena Savinana Rivera. I know there are a couple schools of thought on ORL’s music, but most of that is the result of reactionary horseshit. If you know what I’m talking about I don’t need to go any further. The deeper you sink into these songs the more you come away with something new, and this collection is a hell of an introduction to one of the great, freaky, superhuman songwriters of our time for the beginners out there, and it’s a swell, easy-to-carry traveling companion for those already in the know. Also includes a 20-page booklet complete with musical credits for all the albums featured.

I Was Totally Destroying It, Preludes (Greyday)
Holy shnikes! Where did this monster come from? The hook-laden opening song, “Wrecking Ball,” sets a “melodic 90s indie guitar-rock” standard that is about as high as can be. And, one right after another the great songs pour forth from this band, which includes members of Sorry About Dresden. Reportedly, these tracks were culled from thirty-five songs dating back about six years. Originally, singer/guitarist John Booker put those songs aside while the band worked on album number three, but then they decided to take a different tack, and they went back and selected material to be re-worked into the matrix of the new record. The result is a masterwork that will ride among the best albums of its kind all the way to the end of 2011.

The super-catchy “Control” reels out an unbelievably great vocal from co-lead singer Rachel Hirsh, wherein she shows off some bright and clear pipes with a nice middle tone that doesn’t seem forced as it does with some singers of the fairer gender. She sounds like no one else on the planet, and she and Booker play off each other really well. The musical dynamics and the general motility of the songs allows for some active vocal calisthenics, flavored with harmonies woven around the multiple layers of sound. The hooks come fast and furious, but not in any predictable manner, drums and noisy guitars showing up when they feel like it. Sometimes it sounds like two completely different songs seamlessly spliced together into one: they soar and shimmer, arcing and twisting and turning all around themselves in rhythmic lunges.

In addition to the already existing comparisons to bands like the Lemonheads and Get Up Kids, there’s also some awesome power-pop like the Tommy Keene-esque “Out Tonight,” and the slinky number, “When Chaos Comes.” The wavering melodies and shifty maneuvers work really throughout, but one of the most delectable highlights is “Regulators,” with its powerful and plangent vocal part by Hirsh. When she intones “Regulators, where’s my mister?/He’s been gone so long, so long…” it stays with you for some time after the song ends. I’ll go out on a limb and say it: Rachel Hirsh is the rock vocalist of the year, so far, in my book, and this album should rightfully solidify IWTDI as one of the best bands most people have never heard of working anywhere today. Out.