What is it about the Rodriguez-Lopez brood that enables such prodigious levels of music? Just trying to keep track of Omar’s output as a solo artist and as the guitarist for At the Drive-In and the Mars Volta is laborious enough, let alone his myriad collaborations and ventures into production. Dude’s also got three brothers who happened to take up the family business, the most famous being percussionist Marcel – a multi-instrumentalist who’s logged countless hours in both the Mars Volta and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group. Along with sibling bassist Marfred, Marcel formed Zechs Marquise two years ago under the auspices of his older brother. A searing combination of prog rock, psychedelic funk, and Zappa-esque precision, the band recently sealed its family affair status when it added Rikardo Rodriguez-Lopez to its lineup on keyboards. You’d think that labeling a rock band as a “sibling act” would be taken as some sort of slight, but Zechs Marquise makes the descriptor totally apropos.
The addition of Rikardo to Zechs Marquise is in fact only a recent development – the core group presented on the band’s new sophomore album, Getting Paid, showcases a foursome comprised of guitarists Matthew Wilkson and Marcos Smith, while Marcel and Marfred anchor the rhythm section on drums and bass, respectively. When the fervent Our Delicate Stranded Nightmare debuted in 2009, it provided critics with evidence that this wasn’t just another instance of a new act using familial connections to tout some hackneyed agenda. Acerbic yet not corrosive, the largely instrumental outfit sidestepped much of the Mars Volta’s esotericism by eschewing odd-metered time signatures and dialing down the vocals to almost nothing. Getting Paid capitalizes on this template, tearing through a 50-minute pastiche of angular guitar solos, percussion sample fragments, and mercurial atmospheres.
Yet as much as Zechs Marquise deserves to have their work evaluated on their own terms, it’s also damn near impossible – given the brotherly connections within the band – to listen to Getting Paid without drawing some parallels to the Mars Volta. Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s caustic vocals are obviously not a part of this package, but there are still enough impetuous alterations in tone and minor-mode guitar freakouts to warrant the comparison. The title track is true to these claims, interlocking disparate grooves by a common theme of mysterious melodicism and astral psychedelia. Though Marcel’s work on the kit retains an unequivocal 4/4 rock and roll drive, the jittery solo licks and penchant for heavily affected guitar timbres bear obvious influences. “Lock Jaw Night Vision” yields similar results, but with even more six-string pyrotechnics and warped textures that lend the track a familiar schizophrenic bent.
“The Heat, the Drought, the Thirst, and the Insanity” is one of only two instances where vocals crop up on the record. In this case, the lyrics (“The sun is out / the ground is dry / I can’t shake this feeling / that we’re all going to die”) seem perfectly in line with the song’s title and the nebulous, druggy milieu coaxed by knotted guitar solos, hypnotic female vocals and droning bass tones. The track imparts a chaotic edge not unlike what might be encountered in a Sonic Youth jam where the music gradually crescendos into cacophony.
Other standout moments include the urgent swagger of “Crushin’ It!” and the spastic synth bass-driven closer, “Mega Slap.” What the latter might lack in closure, it makes up for with frenetic wah-wah guitar punctuations and some of the most adroit instrumental performances on the entire record.
Getting Paid is bound to have its detractors, and rightfully so – for all of the technical prowess on display and the boundless creativity, there’s also a sense that a little bit of economy might’ve prevented the album from imparting a bloated quality. Songs like “Static Lovers” and “Guajira” produce the same bounty of ideas as many of the others on the record, but even without the proggy digressions into abstract asymmetrical meters and puzzling lyrics, they come off as a tad arcane. This small grievance aside, Getting Paid is sure to delight not only the Mars Volta fans out there, but also anyone with a passing fancy for artists ranging from Geddy Lee to Jack White. Consider Zechs Marquise prog-rock without the beguiling head games, and hard rock with more technical precision.