It’s surely a total and unhappy coincidence that the Mars Volta will release their latest disc, “Noctourniquet,” mere weeks before their mothership band, beloved prog-punkers At the Drive-In, reunite for a paycheck show at Coachella.
ATDI are mythical partly (mostly?) because they broke up before they had a chance to go downhill. The less fabled, if more accomplished, Mars Volta (assembled by two former ATDI members, singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala and composer/guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López) have been grimly plugging away for more than a decade. These days, their proggy post-rock is just as likely to evoke Mastodon, a band with harder-hitting riffs but an equally dense mythology, as it is ATDI.
Early reports suggested “Noctourniquet” was influenced by superhero myths, but it doesn’t seem to be about anything in particular: It’s really about everything, about how many notes, ideas, guitar solos, genres and sounds can be crammed into one song, into one verse, without overloading its circuits.
The answer: A lot. “Noctourniquet” is a monument to its own excess. It’s a technical marvel, though one with little joy in it. It’s somber and brilliant, horribly pretentious and unnecessarily complex. Perhaps inevitably, it includes forays into electro-prog (on the busy, visceral “Lapochka”) alongside the band’s usual dystopian retro-jazz (“Dyslexicon,” awesome and unfathomable) and dolorous ballads like the gloomy, gorgeous “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound,” which is simultaneously one of the most and least accessible songs the band has ever done.