Omar A. Rodriguez-Lopez, best known as the guitar-playing half of the songwriting duo at the core of The Mars Volta, releases his first solo album, three years in the making. Started in 2001 during the downtime between At The Drive In and TMV, Rodriguez-Lopez intended this music to serve as the soundtrack for an unfinished film project of the same name. Since a plethora of music for the film seems to be done well before the movie is ready to see the light of day, this LP is just the first of two volumes of recorded material.
This mainly instrumental album isn’t too much of a departure from what Omar is currently doing in TMV. Though not drenched in as much prog-madness as his full-time band, this record still features the complex and sometimes over-the-top guitar wankery for which he’s since become known. Far removed and miles beyond the the punk and post-hardcore tunes Omar cut his teeth on, A Manual Dexterity focuses more on dense layering, competent musicianship and calculated ambient noise, recalling everything from Pink Floyd to Can to Santana, albeit channeled through a darker and more sinister place.
Most of the album sounds pretty much like what you’d expect to come from Rodriguez-Lopez these days, with the exception of a few tracks. “Deus Ex Machina,” an authentic attempt at salsa music, is a welcome and interesting change of pace. The guitar work takes a back seat to the slow and seething Latin groove, complete with guest vocals en español. Tape loops are played in reverse and subdued swelling guitar swooshes hover in the background, giving the song Omar’s distinct take on salsa.
“Sensory Decay Part II” stays true to its title with its droning Eno-like minimalist synth work, while “Blood Blue Blisters” sounds like Wolf Eyes meeting Ornette Coleman in a dark alley. Rodriguez-Lopez’s brother-in-arms, Cedric Bixler Zavala, makes the obligatory guest vocalist spot on the album’s final track, sounding like a stripped down, less adrenalized
At over an hour in length, A Manual Dexterity seems a bit self-indulgent and doesn’t really stand on its own as a cohesive album. But viewing it as the soundtrack it’s labeled to be makes it easier to appreciate its often-lengthy lulls. The forays into salsa and samba, combined with Rodriguez-Lopez’s penchant for psychedelia make for the most interesting snippets of the record. Please deduct points for the horrendous album cover. Yuck!
The Mars Volta – De-Loused in the Comatorium
Brian Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy
Pink Floyd – Animals