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Progressive Rock Update With Brad Houser: The Mars Volta, Bassist Juan Alderete

by Brad Houser –

Hello Bass Friends…

For this issue of BMM I would like to introduce to you, The Mars Volta. Formed in 2001, The Mars Volta, hailing from El Paso, TX, is a modern progressive rock band in every sense of the word. They have it all- major chops, blistering tempos, hardcore punk intensity, sudden groove shifts, turn-on-a-dime meter changes, complex song architecture, obscure lyrical themes, and even rumors of occult involvement……….AND a fascination with science fiction!

One thing that distinguishes TMV from “traditional” progressive rock is that these guys have strong roots in punk and hardcore. The Mars Volta have an intensity matched by few, and they do it without the now common down-tuning and cookie-monster vocals, which are so prevalent in heavy rock.

The core of TMV is comprised of guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala. These two men were both key members of the pop/hardcore band At The Drive-In, which had some success and notoriety back in the 1990s, including national TV and radio play. Reportedly Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez left At The Drive-In because they wanted to move in a more progressive direction and not be stuck in punk/ hardcore.

The TMV CD that first came to my ears was “De-Loused in the Comatorium”, in 2003. On this CD, Flea handles the bass duties, with Justin Meldal-Johnsen playing upright on one track. This CD shows the fully realized Mars Volta sound, artfully brought forth with the help of uber-producer Rick Rubin. (What a resume HE has……..) Flea is superb on this record, using his customary combination of intelligence, brutality, and finesse.

The Mars Volta’s current full-length, “The Bedlam in Goliath” shows TMV at full intensity, thanks in part to drummer Thomas Pridgen and bassist Juan Alderete. Alderete, a veteran of LA band Racer X, brings his whole self to the proceedings and lives in service of The Engine Room. Employing his SVT/ Jazz Bass steel grinding tone, Juan is THE man. Tireless and muscular, he effortlessly pummels, an absolute requirement when standing next to drummer Pridgen. Pridgen, on this outing, is essentially a computerized soulful jackhammer. For documentation of these outlandish claims, let us now go to… YouTube…

On YouTube, the 2008 “Live at the Electric Ballroom” vids show The Mars Volta in top form. These videos in particular are notable for their sonic fidelity and riveting performances by the band. Watching these I was struck by the similarity to Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same”. Not in any overt copycat way, but in more of the essence at the root. The songs stretch and give way to long psychedelic noise/ improv sections, reminding one of live Zep circa ’78…………. These folks are Masters. All Hail The Mars Volta!!!!

YouTube clips, which stand out to me, are “Eriatarka” [brutal sublimity], “Cerpin Taxt” (check out the excellent Alderte fretless/wah intro), and “This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed”. These gents are also the now reigning kings of The Cryptic Song Title.

If King Crimson were a punk band, you would have an approximate sense of The Mars Volta sound. I stand in awe of this group. The YouTube videos show them at maximum intensity. I would guess that attending one of their shows is akin to running an Emotional Marathon (I have yet to see them live, alas).

Their sound seems inextricably linked to the region from which they emerged. El Paso, TX is a sprawling, urban strip mall quasi-wasteland in the Southwestern desert. (No insult intended). In such a locale, one’s eyes and attention frequently turn toward………….the sky. The Mars Volta’s sound is violent and churning, yet always seems to be tuned to space, the sky, and beyond. Picture a radio telescope, next to a 7-11, on the edge of a city in the desert, at twilight.

Please give these gentlemen a listen… Their blend of intelligence and brutality is beautiful, indeed. Enjoy.

Visit online at www.myspace.com/themarsvolta

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