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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Wednesday, January 30, 2008 - SA

ALBUM REVIEW

Mastery from six
feet under

Volta. Mars Volta.

When Oija boards attack

Prog rockers return
on latest release with
another concept but
average execution
By LINDSAY CHMIELEWSKI
For the Daily
The psychedelic prog-rock
band The Mars Volta is known
for its concept albums. Its debut
release, De-Loused in the Coma-
torium, featured a protagonist
in a drug-induced coma, and its
follow-up, Frances the Mute, was
based on a ran-
dom diary that
was found in a C
repossessed car.
The band's lat- MarS Volta
est LP, The Bed- The Bedlam
lam in Goliath, in Goliath
is about a malig-
nant Ouija- Universal
esque board
that began to make demands
and wreak havoc on the band's
recording process - seriously.
The story goes that producer
and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-

L6pez bought a Ouija board,
later named "the Soothsayer," at
a shop in Jerusalem for vocalist
Cedric Bixler-Zavala. A tale of
love, lust and murder between a
man, a woman and her mother
was narrated through the board
by a singular voice named "Goli-
ath," who apparently began ask-
ing the band what they had to
offer and making threats. Later,
Bixler-Zavala underwent foot
surgery, Rodriguez-Lopez's
home recording studio flooded
and the album's original engi-
neer had a nervous breakdown.
They blamed all of this on the
Ouija board and decided to bury
it.
Don't get it? Don't worry.
What the band lacks in unam-
biguous themes and relatable
lyrics they make up for with an
electrified sound that is entire-
ly its own, if not a little weird.
Most of the tracks on Goliath are
explosive and energetic, mov-
ing through diverse segments
and hooks with seamless effort.
"Metatron" mixes heavy guitar
riffs with catchy vocals, right
down to Bixler-Zavala's falsetto
interlude four minutes into the

song. "Goliath" fuses psyche-
delic rock with Latin percussion
to make the song just plain fun,
without an overproduced sound
we've come to expect from the
Mars Volta.
The album also boasts the
most aggressive sound we've
heard from The Mars Volta to
date. Case-in-point: "Ourobo-
ros." There's no other word to
describe the song as but heavy -
it's almost a metal track but with
a definite Latin influence.
One major problem with the
album is that nothing about it
seems natural. It is hard to imag-
ine how the band would play
many of these songs live with
such complex instrumentation
and computerized background
noise. More than a few tracks fea-
ture the same digitalized vocal
effects during most of their end-
ings. "Agadez" fades in and out
with an effect that sounds like a
45 being played at 33 rpm. These
effects, taking the song beyond
eerie to make it downright fright-
ening, drown the entire last min-
ute of "Tourniquet Man."
The fact that Goliath is the
first of the band's albums to be

devoid of a song that breaks the
10-minute mark does not mean
they've abandoned their expan-
sive nature. Much of the wind
instrumentation and distorted
background noise on the album
extends songs past their logical
conclusions. It seems that the
band is pushing boundaries with
these endeavors, but in reality
they are producing more of the
same, with way too many sounds
packed into one song. "Calvettas"
fades in and out throughout the
entire track behind a wall of dis-
tortion. It could, and should, end
in about seven different places.
With these antics the band suc-
cessfully obliterates any chance
that their songs might be eupho-
nious or melodic for the purpose
of remaining original. .
For these reasons, The Mars
Volta remains an acquired taste.
If you're not used to their cacoph-
onous and drawn-out sound, the
obscure lyrics and themes of Goli-
ath will do nothing to add to their
appeal. But for the veteran Mars
Volta listener, Goliath moves
through this weird tale with ani-
mated and vigorous instrumen-
tation and performance.

E ver since Hollywood
heartthrob Heath Ledger
died last week, there have
been constant cries of devotion
and praise: "Ledger is the new
James Dean," "He was one of the
best actors of our generation" and
so forth. His lasting effect on the
film world is yet to be seen, but he's
been herald-
ed by many as
deeply influ-
ential, placed
on the same
level as many
of Holly-
wood's other
fallen stars. CHRIS
Whether or GAERIG
not he actual-
ly materializ-
es as this prophetic symbol, Ledger
and other stars who suffered early
deaths represent something much
more interesting and hint at a
macabre mindset: The artistic
world needs dead superstars.
Though Ledger is the latest
artistic martyr, these losses are
more prevalent and widespread
in music - to name a few, Rob-
ert Johnson, Kurt Cobain, Ian
Curtis, Notorious B.I.G. and Jimi
Hendrix. And while their deaths
were tragic and unexpected, com-
ing at the height of their careers,
their untimely departures not only
cemented their legendary status
but also saved the musical canon
from all the disastrous artistic
missteps they could have taken.
These deaths are necessary to
establish a catalog of mythic artists
of unreachable greatness who have
only released stellar material.
Regardless of the circumstances
surrounding the musician's death,
whether it's suicide (accidental
or otherwise), murder or natural
causes, the artist is almost always
thrown into this mythic company.
Many speculate as to the motiva-
tions behind suicide at the peak
of one's fame, a question that can
only be answered with a quizzical
shrug of the shoulders and specu-
lation. The other two stand firmly
as tragic events. Yet, none of it
seems important in relation to the
legacy left behind.
Posthumous releases aside, an
artist's death can help solidify
what is often a canonical collection
of work, making the deceased art-
ist a topic of debate. The tragedies
often force fans and critics alike
to lament "What if?" What if Nir-
vana had continued its dominance
of mainstream radio and pushed
grunge into an even more promi-
nent place in society? What if Ian
Curtis hadn't hung himself and
had instead gone on to deliver more
heart-wrenchingly gorgeous and
haunting albums? What if Robert
Johnson had recorded more than
29 songs in his lifetime?
Fundamental to all these specu-
lations is the idea that these artists
would have continued to deliver
top-notch material and continue to
revolutionize music if they hadn't
died.Frankly,it's an absurd concept
and one that needs to be destroyed
by fanboys and critics alike.

In a paper delivered at the
2007 Experience Music Project
called "B-but what about the test
of SPACE?" Mark Sinker argues
that music fits into a specific time
and scene. For example, Nirvana's
angst-fueled jams wouldn't have
been accepted in the early'30s. The
music exists distinctly where and
when it was created and wouldn't
translate to other moments in the
musical timeline. Because of this,
we need to think about what might
have happened, had any of these
dead artists survived and contin-
ued to make original music.
Take Jimi Hendrix. An artist
wholly innovative in his approach
and sound, in the late '60s Hendrix
revolutionized the way electric
guitar was played. But years after
his initial influence, how would he
continue to innovate? How would
Hendrix have been able to further
solidify his legacy if he hadn't died
at the peak of his popularity? As
professor Bruce Conforth collo-
quially argues, he might have been
doing techno or something equally
revolutionary in the '70s. Hendrix
might be remembered as much a
contemporary of Kraftwerk as the
Woodstock crowd. But then again,
Imagine Jimi
Hendrix being
played at a rave
he could have been remembered as
someone who squandered an enor-
mous amount of talent, or some-
one who got lucky on a couple of
records. It took Hendrix's death
to make everyone wonder what he
could've amounted to at the same
time saving his legacy from pos-
sible embarrassment.
And the same goes for almost all
of these musicians. Would grun-
ge have subsisted much longer if
Cobain hadn't died, fending off
the swarms of pop-metal cookie-
cutter bands like Korn and Limp
Bizkit? The answer is most likely
a resounding "no." Cobain quite
possibly could've run Nirvana into
the ground, insistent on sticking to
grunge and producing several for-
gettable records. Would Notorious
B.I.G. have run the gamut of great
records and innovative flows, or
would he have fizzled out over sev-
eral shoddy releases the way his
successor Jay-Z did? Recent hip-
hop trends - Nas, Public Enemy,
Rakim - tend toward the latter.
It seems then, that society relish-
es in the occasional demise of these
young artists. It not only gives us
something to talk about but also
helps us gauge greatness, establish-
ing a standard by which other work
can be judged. And though we don't
anticipate these losses, we're not
entirely upset by them. Despite
what your favorite blog might say.
Gaerig is just jealous dead
people are more famous than him.
Console him at cgaerig@umich.edu

Crazy coppers
and hillbillies,

By JOHN DAAVETTILA
Daily Arts Writer
Police officers have always had
stoic personas: the MIP-issuing,
speeding ticket-giving flatfoot
who's out to get you. Police officers
have rarely incited laughter. Then
came "Reno 911!" which followed
the lives of eight eccentric cops in
the Reno County Sheriff's Depart-
ment, as well as the ensuing hilar-
ity on the job.
But "eccentric" is an understate-
ment, as the characters don't have
little quirks but legitimate psy-
chiatric problems. For instance,
Deputy Cherisha Kimball (Mary
Birdsong, "Crossballs: The Debate

Show") won't eat donuts because
they remind her of an orifice - and
she's the normal one. Another
example and possibly the single
most iconic thing about the show,
is Lieutenant Jim Dangle (Thomas
Lennon, "Balls of Fury") and his
uniform shorts, which are compa-
rable to pleated, khaki underwear.
The short sketches that make
up the show are mainly populated
with quick bursts of lewd, crazy
hillbillies, but there's also plot
in each episode, like a criminal
scavenger hunt, where the depu-
ties compete to arrest the hot-
test hooker in Reno or someone
over six feet, five inches. "Reno
911" differs from other sketch

Reno Sheriff's Department: Fighting crime, one hot hooker arrest at a time.

shows like "Saturday Night Live,"
in that the material they use isn't
time-sensitive, relying on rampant
hijinx for laughs.
After four seasons the show is
as funny as ever. The satirical use
of blatant racial, gender and reli-
gious discrimination still holds
strong five years later. Also keep-
ing "Reno 911!" alive are the fleet-
ing guest appearances. The high

quality of these appearances is
their subtlety. There's no parade
or special mention of a guest star
at the beginning of each episode,
and you're lucky if you manage to
catch a name in the ending credits.
Often, the actors are on screen for
about 30 seconds, probably giving
them a fun break from their nor-
mal acting jobs.
See RENO, Page 8A

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