Omar Rodriguez-Lopez – Telesterion album review

Prolific musicians are, aside from being simply tough to follow, pretty difficult to get into.  Aside from the mass of amount material, a greater challenge is wading through some of the more forgettable material in order to find the true gems.  You ever tried getting into Frank Zappa, whose career encompassed roughly 40 years and over 70 albums?  Quite a challenge, let me tell you.  The same can be said of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, chiefly known as the guitarist of The Mars Volta, who has released a whopping 23 studio albums over the span of just 6 years – and that’s not even counting his albums with the Mars Volta in that time.

Luckily, Telesterion, Rodriguez-Lopez’s first compilation of solo material, is here to serve as an introduction to the abstract auteur.  With 37 tracks spread over two discs, the album basically does what any good compilation should – it gives people new to his material a well-rounded and much-needed overview of his short but prolific career so far.

So how is the music itself?  For the most part, quite good; a lot of it would fit on any Mars Volta album – considering he’s the main songwriter of that band, this is hardly surprising, but it is a bit disappointing.  That’s the problem with musicians who are as unique as Rodriguez-Lopez; when your sound is so closely tied to the sound of a particular band, especially one as unique as the Mars Volta, it’s really tough to break out of it and find your own sound.

In fact, it’s the songs that go completely out of Rodriguez-Lopez’s comfort zone, or the ones that filter traditional musical forms through his wonky, chaotic style, that really shine.  “Coma Pony” and “Melting Chariots”, both from The Apocalypse Inside of an Orange add a bass clarinet/saxophone player, creating an odd mix that adds an extra layer of intrigue and some R n’ B influence to his usual style; “Viernes” and “Lunes” from Ciencia de los Inutiles are beautiful, minimal acoustic tracks that show a heretofore unheard level of restraint from the guitarist and breathtaking vocals by Mexican singer-songwriter Ximena Sarinana Rivera; “Deus Ex Machina” layers a bunch of effects and guitar noise on top of traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms; and the 30-second long “Solenoid Mosque” is basically a standard blues progression but with Rodriguez-Lopez’s  delay-pedal sounds  layered over it.  These are really interesting, unique tracks from an already interesting, unique musician.

The rest of his material pretty much sounds like the Mars Volta.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though; none of the songs are ever worse than being merely forgettable – and even then they’re at least still fun to listen to – and the good songs are really cool.  If you’re a Mars Volta fan and haven’t heard this yet, you’ll probably love it; if you’re just interested in Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s solo stuff and don’t know where to start, Telesterion gives you a lot of bang for your buck.  It’s a comprehensive greatest-hits collection to an artist that desperately needed one, and because of that, it’s an unequivocal success.

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez - Telesterion

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