Twelve albums into a five-year solo career, the Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s need to release music seems more and more like a compulsion—album after album, each produced with unbelievable speed, each laced with the same spidery guitar work, bizarre melodies, and coarse non-sequitur lyricism. All told, he has played on roughly 30 releases since 1999—work that, while uniformly ambitious, has also fallen prey to an overburdened sense of dilution.
Xenophones is the latest product of his hiatus from the Mars Volta, a period that has really been neither of those things: the work Rodriguez Lopez produces outside the band sounds fundamentally the same as the music recorded with it. This album, while still dominated by that same domineering restiveness and neurotic stylistic tics, is thankfully a bit different, more focused on individual hooks than expanding our minds. Freed from an overbearingly diffuse structure, the songs are affable, even catchy at times, and since they’re in Spanish it’s easy to ignore what are presumably torrents of stream-of-consciousness blather.
For the non-obsessive, it’s impossible to judge the relative quality of Xenophanes, at least based on the continuum of Rodriguez Lopez’s other work. His volume precludes it. But on its own, this is certainly a nice effort. The feel is still sketchy and somewhat improvised, but there’s no sense that these songs are simply impressionistic doodles.
But while there are songs that hint at focused greatness, there are also missteps. “Mundo de Ciego” typifies most of what’s boring and bloodless about this type of deracinated exploration: pointlessly oscillating guitars, free-floating piano breaks, untamed sound collages indistinguishable from the hundreds of other sound collages that he, his bands, and their predecessors have produced. And songs like “Desarraigo” and “Flores de Cizana” are far more measured, in a way that makes the rest of this material feel like a waste of space. They recall the comparatively simple At the Drive In era, when Lopez was young, raw, and not as inclined to spread his talents so thin.