Antiquiet was thrilled to get our hands on an early copy of Cryptomnesia, the virgin release by El Grupo Nuevo De Omar Rodríguez López– a new band comprised of López, Volta singer Cedric Bixler Zavala and bassist Juan Alderete de la Peña, drummer Zach Hill and synth bassist Jonathan Hischke of the bizarrely awesome Hella.
El Grupo Nuevo De Omar Rodríguez López has already recorded three albums’ worth of material, and the first batch of tracks- Cryptomnesia– is due out May 5 with a limited vinyl pressing to be released on Record Store Day (April 18).
Fans of The Mars Volta will delight in the fact that Cryptomnesia isn’t a self-indulgent swan-dive into empty noise and throwaway tracks from López; it’s a fully formed project with legs of its own, a sensible hybrid between the two bands represented by the collaboration: Hella and The Mars Volta. Don’t let the presumed safety in the word “sensible” fool you, however- this music flies nowhere near the green zone. It’s a sonic minefield, a metaphysical kaleidoscope with a hyper-Latin jazz-infused maelstrom at the center, binding it all together.
After a bizarre introduction of what sounds like people making oddly sexual animal sounds, López’s familiar Latin sunburst production crashes in, and we’re strapped to a rocket already blasting into the stratosphere. Zavala sweetly sings his indecipherable nursery rhymes (He went slightly to conniving / in a splatter of months / every Tuesday play the fool day…) over pummeling drums, rolling like a helicopter as Omar belts out shorthand riffs, a swirling vertigo apocalypse demanding- no, hijacking– full attention.
Cedric’s vocals take a unique turn at the chorus, harmonic ghosts pulling the melody downward like an anchor: Tuberculoids, come drip your spirits in the glass of wedding drunks… typically cryptically creepy, but goddamned if it isn’t the sweetest alien air this fan has breathed in a while.
Hill’s percussive flurries underscore the ten-ton bass swing in Half Kleptos that keeps the song in pulsing funk form throughout. It’s in the Mars Volta vein, but with the recurring phrasing and relatively sane time signature/structure, casual listeners won’t be nearly as alienated as they would in a standard Volta (or Hella, for that matter) release.
The frantic digital bleeps of title track Cryptomnesia comes without warning quickly interrupted by a man telling another the story of when he smoked some really good hash and was “crazy enough” to enter the holiest mosque in Egypt and prayed among the Muslims, terrified, being that he was a Jew. As his story winds down, the squealing siren of Lopez’ fades in, a warning of the supernova explosion just seconds from wiping the slate clean of any narrative. At just over six minutes, Cryptomnesia is by far the longest- and most Volta-esque in scope and magnitude- track on the album. Hill’s searing percussive assault shines through the labyrinth Lopez and his double-bass cohorts have designed, our only light through the Mach-19 tornado- his fills are a jaw-dropping flurry of inimitable kit trickery, and the snare sounds like a gunshot in an aluminum garbage can.
Instrumental jam They’re Coming To Get You, Barbara is a ribonucleic acid freakout of alien frequencies, digital chirps and shimmering blips falling like rain before hitting a broken-record outro loop that’s as cool as it is unexpected. Puny Humans is the third track to begin like a futuristic French disco track before breaking left and leaping into play. Cascading drums and jagged guitar lines lay the canvas base for a breathless vocal delivery that stylistically reaches back to Cedric’s more direct, confrontational approach from his days in At The Drive-In.
The same can be said for Shake Is For 8th Graders, which is essentially a second act to Puny Humans, centering on the promise I won’t get Tourette’s if you won’t get Tourette’s.
Noir immediately stands apart from the pack, opening more like an Adam Jones (Tool) guitar intro than anything we’ve heard this side of Volta. The bass indicates a beast awakening, a wild rising heartbeat, a building upward drive… and then nothing. Seconds pass in silence before the familiar droning bassline and guitar from last month’s Cryptomnesia promotion piece return, a precursor to a spastic explosion of sound over the pulsing bass. Then it’s gone, quickly as it came, leaving only a manic snare roll spinning like debris in the wake of a tornado.
Despite its title, Paper Cunts is an instant singalong, finding Zavala again embracing a much more linear melodic structure:
I saw the way you winked at me / feather lashes and mandrill teeth
The paper cunts that I left for you / heavy TVs and blinking glue
Asthmatic howls from lycanthropes/ hair lips sewn from my ghost notes
I hitched a ride in a primer czar / from a headless torso in a topless bar
If there’s some greater lyrical theme or poetically metaphorical encryption here, this eager traveler is yet to find it. But Zavala’s vitriolic swagger is unmatched, no matter the narrative. The bassline carries into the even more quaintly titled Elderly Pair Beaten With Hammer, which features Cedric’s most present, clear and, well, human delivery we’ve heard yet from the man- possibly ever. The rest of the song dissolves into a frantic set of explosive outbursts from the rest of the band members, bleeding into Warren Oates (you know, the guy who played Sergeant Hulka in Stripes). There’s an epic, apocalyptic nature to the song, a raging midnight sea full of monsters, without a light to guide you- only Cedric’s distant, transcendent falsetto.
The beast finally grabs hold at the 3:10 mark, pulling you under and racing through a frantic, outright dance-worthy deathroll spazz-jam. The song’s outro will undoubtedly be one of those extended jaw-dropper jams that, performed live, will convert the fans into fanatics and the skeptics into gushing believers. Mark my words.
Perhaps thankfully, final track Fuck Your Mouth is simply a thank you to each and every one of us, the haters, the lovers, the doers, the shakers, the movers, the flaunters… etc. It’s a bizarre, yet gentle return to Earth after ten tracks of extra-dimensional upping of the ante for any and all prog-freak rockers out there. Side project, new band, supergroup- whatever the hell it is, it’s incredible. Get your ass to a participating record store on April 18th and buy this album.
Additionally, for those who aren’t familiar with Zach Hill’s work, a good example of his percussive blizzardry can be found in this unaired Vans commercial from a few years back. It’s a breathless four and a half minute pummeling, featuring only Hill, his kit and the ocean rocks he set up on. If the one-shoed performance doesn’t kick your ass, you better check your cynicism gauge. He also teamed up with Prefuse centerpiece Guillermo Scott Herren to form the duo Diamond Watch Wrists, and their debut Ice Capped At Both Ends is due via Warp on May 5- the same day as Cryptomnesia. Don’t expect it to sound anything like his other two projects- it’s got much more of a Pinback on acid kind of feel to it.
And of course, we can expect a new Volta album in a couple months- June 19th to be exact- and the working title is Octahedron.
El Grupo Nuevo De Omar Rodríguez López
May 5th (Vinyl April 18th), 2009
Rodríguez López Productions
2. Half Kleptos
4. They’re Coming To Get You, Barbara
5. Puny Humans
6. Shake Is For 8th Graders
8. Paper Cunts
9. Elderly Pair Beaten With Hammer
10. Warren Oates
11. Fuck Your Mouth
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.