The Joup Friday Album: The Mars Volta – De-loused in the Comatorium

delousedThere are some albums you get right away. Others take time. An anecdote I use that a lot of people tend to relate to is when I fell in love with Pinebender’s Working Nine to Wolf . I had the disc on repeat downstairs in the living room of our rented town home while I was upstairs writing. The music on the album was unobtrusive, working its way through the floor boards in vague and lilting passages that, at first, left no impression. Shortly however, I realized I was humming along with what I had just heard, and before long I knew the disc intricately even when away from it. I call this the “Through the walls” method of absorbing music and it often leads to some of the strongest connections I have with albums. Several key records in my life have endeared themselves to me in this or similarly “passive” ways. The Mars Volta’s debut full-length album De-loused in the Comatorium is one of them.

It wasn’t so much through the walls that Comatorium got me, but it was in a similarly abstract way. I purchased the album several years after its initial release and as appears to be a fairly common experience upon first hearing it, was intrigued but overwhelmed by it in both a musical and conceptual manner. I liked it at that time for the sheer audacity of sound, for its frenetic, violent discourse, but it didn’t move me in the way that it would further down the line.

Over time I went through stints where I fell back in The Mars Volta. I only have their initial E.P. Tremulent, Comatorium and 2008’s Bedlam in Goliath. That has served me well thus far because, as much as I like the other two, De-loused is the one that I keep coming back to with the most curiosity, small jags on the record every year or so leading to incremental breakthroughs in contextualizing its gargantuan presentation.

Then, about nine days ago I began a new daily ritual; every day, after work or later in the evening on the weekend, I walk 1.1 miles uphill to the Starbucks where I’m applying most of the finishing touches on my novel. I write for a few hours and then walk back in the cool of the night. The later part of the journey has become synonymous with Boards of Canada’s Tomorrow’s Harvest; this is because cutting through the neighborhood alleys of San Pedro in the failing light with this record as a soundtrack makes me feel as though I’m in a John Carpenter movie. The journey there however, usually in the heat of the afternoon, has become married to Comatorium. The walk literally has taken on some of the more visual characteristics of the album, probably due to the condition I have mentioned here before, my wonderful synesthesia. That is to say that as I walk certain patches of fence, sidewalk, homes, whatever is in front of me, hit in time with certain musical and lyrical passages on the album and I become of two minds – one is walking in San Pedro, the other is a floating observer in a lush technocratic landscape of airships, authoritarian insectoid intelligences and Cronenbergian body horror.

And I love it.

The synesthesia element of my experience with this record took years to fully take hold, but now that it’s been triggered it is of such importance to me that I just cannot separate myself from this album for a single day, and as much as I often want to give it a spin on my iPod at work I resist – I have to save it for the walk. Also, I suppose I should clarify, everything I’m describing happens during sober listening. I’ve had the inkling to hit the vaporizer a few times and re-engage with the record in that particular headspace but, honestly, I probably won’t.

It can’t be as good a trip as Comatorium is raw.

One of the really stand-out things that I would like to suggest anyone who reads this and spends some time with the album today is the lyrics. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala, the two main authors here, create such an unbelievably vivid sci-fi world with their words that, to quote the A.P. review summated in the record’s wikipedia page, “takes multiple listens to absorb, and, even then, you’re probably not going to have a clue to what Bixler’s raving about.”* Yeah, pretty much, except if you really want to go further into the headf*&K go HERE and download and read the short story the record is based on, written by Zavala and reportedly inspired by the death of his friend, artist Julio Venegas. Also, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I think Zavala is raving – I think this is simply a case of an artist tapping into something that can’t completely be understood in current human terms, a la William Burroughs with the City of the Red Night trilogy or Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles.

If you dig it run the hell out and buy De-loused in the Comatorium – it is very much the kind of album that grows with you over time. There’s so much going on you simply will not hear it all, and every listen changes a bit. While you’re at it, you might also want to pick up the Lopez and Zavala’s new group’s record, Antemasque.

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Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

One Response to The Joup Friday Album: The Mars Volta – De-loused in the Comatorium
  1. KJ VanWormer

    KJ VanWormer Reply

    Well done, Shawn! You are such a wonderfully tough act to follow.

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