Omar Rodriguez-Lopez – A Manual Dexterity: Soundtrack, Vol. 1

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez
A Manual Dexterity: Soundtrack, Vol. 1

Why aren’t film soundtracks more structured? The films they represent often follow rigid guidelines, rarely straying from genre qualifiers or predictable plots. And while it’s true that indie films have much more leniency than major motion pictures, rarely are they the complete messes their soundtracks might have you believe. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s A Manual Dexterity: Soundtrack, Vol. 1 is such a mishmash of sounds and structures, such an incoherent babble of a record, that it not only leaves the listener wondering what the hell the movie could be like, it leaves the listener with little desire to even see the movie.

Of course, Rodriguez-Lopez made his underground hay with now-defunct post-punk quintet At the Drive-In. He earned it, too: ATDI’s records were best known for singer Cedric Bixler’s high-octane wail, but it was Rodriguez-Lopez’s pulsing, flailing leads that set the band apart. Since the 2001 breakup, Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler-Zavala (Bixler) put together The Mars Volta, releasing last year’s De-Loused in the Comatorium to endless praise from ATDI fans (and few others). That record’s prog arrangements and lengthy track times made it nearly unbearable, and while Rodriguez-Lopez managed to throw in some interesting guitar parts, it was clear that he was moving away from ATDI’s punk-flash and into decidedly more ambient territory.

During its very best moments, A Manual Dexterity comes across as a more aggressive Brian Eno, making up for what it lacks in melodic genius with waves of sound. The other tracks – shall we say, most tracks – are too grotesquely experimental and self-consciously art-damaged to make them even listenable.

Truly, all of the elements are in place. Rodriguez-Lopez is a talented, underappreciated guitarist who wishes not only to show his aggressive riffs but also to slap some beauty on a plastic canvas and see what sticks. Unfortunately, Rodriguez-Lopez comes off as the most indie-centric Guitar World jammer ever: You can almost see him, hunched in a corner of the store for hours, playing with effects pedals that more creative guitarists discard, flanked by lazy, unmotivated employees alternately trying to sell him something and push him out of the store as quickly as possible.

Some of this stuff is comically bad. “Of Blood and Blisters” torments listeners with two minutes of “pretty” piano interrupted by tremor-inducing white-noise stabs before launching into the record’s first real groove. The groove is fantastic, except that it comes eight songs in, and in the middle of an otherwise unlistenable track. “Around Knuckles White Tile” actually features shredding, and on “Deus Ex Machina” he connects with his Latin heritage, throwing a laughably out-of-place Latin traditional in the middle of this mess.

The songs all start off very quietly, as if taking a minute to convince you of Rodriguez-Lopez’s artistic credibility. After all, man, these are like, really deep songs, even though they don’t contain any words. Whatever film this accompanies, I really want no piece of it. Rodriguez-Lopez is an undeniably talented six-string slinger, but until he learns to restrain his artistic tendencies, he’s Jeff Fucking Beck without a good rhythm section.