The Mars Volta – Tremulant EP

The Mars Volta
Tremulant EP

The much talked out splitting of At the Drive-In has caused quite the amount of gossip. It seems the band collapsed under the weight of its own success. Many think that there are some in the band that did not like the direction the group seemed to be headed in. If the new material from The Mars Volta, as compared to Sparta, can be used as evidence, then there may be some truth to the speculation.
The Mars Volta are a supercharged super group led by ex-At the Drive-In members Omar Alfredo Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler Zavala. They were the primary writers for their popular previous group, and many are wondering if they can duplicate – or even improve – the sound of that they were known for. With even a cursory listen to their new EP, one can easily assess that there is something special at play here.
The EP begins with a nearly two minute intro of light drums and synth sounds. It seems to go on forever, which is frustrating, but at the same time it brings a sense of tension to the listener. It makes one want to say, “Ok, come on, let’s get with the rocking!” However, one of the most interesting things about The Mars Volta seems to be their lack of listener-friendly appeal, which At The Drive-In seemed to be moving towards. Not to say their record isn’t easy to listen to, it’s just that their sound, as with all great music, requires a bit of patience.
After the intro, the remainder of “Cut That City” explodes through the speakers. It’s a combination of frantic guitars, frenzied yet melodic vocals, ear shattering drums and an abundance of synthesized atmosphere that all comes together to create an explosive, unique sound. The influences at play here, and on the rest of the EP, are quite varied. One picks up hints of Led Zeppelin, Fugazi, and even a bit of At the Drive-In, mixed with the rugged soul of Sly and the Family Stone. It’s quite the mix!
When compared to Sparta, the other ex-At the Drive-In band, there is a world of difference. Sparta’s new EP, as solid as it is, shows them moving towards more of a straightforward, traditional indie-rock sound. The writing is good, but something seems a bit too packaged and pretty about it. The Mars Volta do not have any of that gloss. Their sound, at least thus far, is rough, rugged, and raw.
“Concertina” picks up where the first song leaves off, except it is slightly quieter and more melodic in tone. It’s a mix of solid, but lighter, instrumentation with truly soulful vocals. There is a feeling and originality at play here that so many other bands in the indie scene cannot touch. The third and final cut off of the EP, “Eunuch Provocateur,” begins softly with a strong rhythm in the background. Then, after some bizarre-sounding samples, the bands shifts gears and rips some of the most powerful rock seen in years. If one were to imagine a mixture of Led Zeppelin at its most raucous mixed with the stylings of Fugazi they may have an idea of what this track delivers. Even when playing with such intensity, the vocals somehow manage to stay just as melodic as the previous tracks as well.
With the release of this EP, The Mars Volta have quickly become one of the most important bands to watch in the indie scene. While this record is not as radio friendly as some of the later At the Drive-In material, music fans should appreciate the depth and originality that this group has invested in their sound.