Omar Rodriguez Lopez – Telesterion

Omar Rodriguez Lopez - Telesterion

With a solo catalog that spans not even 10 years yet boasts more than a dozen (and counting) albums of original material, it seemed sort of inevitable that songwriter and guitar demigod Omar Rodriguez Lopez would try his hand at tidying up more than 150 tracks worth of volatile experimental rock and whittling them down to a judicious collection of only 37 of his choicest cuts.  So it is with Telesterion, Rodriguez Lopez’s first-ever attempt to bring some clarity and concision to a career defined by confounding songwriting, unorthodox performances, and breakneck diffusion.

It’s a tough assignment to parse the work of any prolific artist, let alone one like Rodriguez Lopez, who, in addition to appearing on more than 50 individual releases since 1996, is not averse to eyebrow-raising song titles like “Elderly Pair Beaten with Hammer” and “Hands Tied to the Roots of a Hemorrhage.”  Couple this with a fluency in the Spanish language and guitar theatrics that sound like the unholy union of Bill Frisell and Frank Zappa, and you’ve got an intimidating charge set before you.

Telesterion does what it can to make sense of the chaos, but packaging almost 40 songs on a 2-disc compilation is still plenty antithetical to the succinctness of most greatest hits compilations; Omar Rodriguez Lopez Plays His Hits, this ain’t.  Thankfully, the man makes his intentions a little more conspicuous, stating, “Everything I do is a celebration. The idea of this album is a place where people can get a general understanding of that ritual.”  From this angle, Telesterion is a successful endeavor, though tunes with monikers like “Half Kleptos” and “Rapid Fire Tollbooth” don’t exactly beg for screams of fervid elation.  Still though, if sifting through Rodriguez Lopez’s body of work – note for brooding note – isn’t in your game plan, this sinewy collection of heavy metal riffage and harrowing post-rock will get the message across just fine.

Once you get yourself past the suspect release methods, cumbersomely named tunes, and plethora of material, there’s just not enough that can be said about the songs themselves; Omar Rodriguez Lopez has never been one of indie rock’s most accessible artists, but those with a discerning ear and a patient mind are in for an exhilarating ride with one of modern music’s most beautifully twisted minds.  Presented out of chronological order, Telesterion features cuts from every Rodriguez Lopez album from 2004’s solo debut (A Manual Dexterity) to last fall’s Cizaña de los Amores.  The album kicks off with “Locomoción Capilar,” a blistering track from 2009’s Solar Gambling that brandishes many of the El Paso resident’s idiosyncrasies – barbed guitar melodies, sultry Spanish vocals, expeditious drumming, and coalescing layers of texture.  From here it’s on to “Population Council’s Wet Dream,” – off of Old Money, also released in 2009 – which highlights the sort of blistering dissonance and graceful catharsis typical of Rodriguez Lopez’s work in the Mars Volta.  There are traces of early Sonic Youth No Wave and 80’s speed metal embedded here, where extended squalls of drill noise give way to fiery six-string heroics.

While these qualities are Rodriguez Lopez’s stock-in-trade, Telesterion also allows floor time for some of his less impervious work.  “Melting Chariots” is notable for its straightforward 4/4 time signature, funky groove, and swaggering jazz fusion horns.  “Polaridad,” from last year’s electronic-infused Tychozorente, brings clarion vocals, chiming mallet percussion, and squiggling atmospherics to the fore.   Two tracks from Ciencia de los Inútiles showcase Rodriguez Lopez at his most intimate; “Viernes” and “Lunes” are both tender acoustic meditations with only a little Fender Rhodes and the hypnotic vocals of Mexican singer Ximena Sariñana Rivera filling out the milieu.  Again featured on the Solar Gambling tune “Poincaré,” Rivera’s voice is treated with delay while a piano tentatively plunks out aching chords in the background.  Like “Polaridad,” there’s nary a guitar to be found.

Yet for the restraint he so deftly employs, it’s hard to argue that Omar Rodriguez Lopez is at his best when he’s haphazardly zigzagging across the map – “Shake Is for 8th Graders” is an exemplary demonstration of this, as Mars Volta bandmate Cedric Bixler-Zavala sing-songs his way across jittery layers of guitar and angular drum patterns.  Same goes for “La Tiranía de la Tradición,” which features more of Bixler-Zavala’s acerbic vocals and white-hot synthesizer timbres that eventually devolve into an earsplitting melee.

Those who ignored the first 17 albums(!?) of Omar Rodriguez Lopez are not likely to jump on the avant-garde bandwagon after hearing this career-spanning abstract, but for those who only had the time to investigate a half dozen or so of his records and are still searching for some aid in discovering the rest, Telesterion is a must have guide.