After eleven years of putting out some of the best progressive rock out there, The Mars Volta called it quits. What began as an apparent hiatus ended up being the band’s demise: guitarist and main composer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez chose to tour with his new project Bosnian Rainbows, rather than supporting Volta’s last LP Noctourniquet, prompting singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala to announce the end of the group. With both creative halves officially separate, Bosnian Rainbows’ self-titled evades the concept of a mere side-project, and it’s all for the better.
Also comprised of Le Butcherettes singer Teri Gender Bender, former Volta drummer Deantoni Parks and keyboardist Nicci Kasper, Bosnian Rainbows came up from Rodriguez-Lopez’ desire to go into a new phase of his career, actually collaborating with other musicians rather than dictating the direction of the sound. Opener Eli, uplifting and sprawling as it is, might give a wrong impression at first: this debut LP sounds very little like The Mars Volta, when at all, whether as a result of having more songwriters at work or from a conscious decision to do things differently
If a comparison had to be drawn to any previous Volta record, it’d be Noctourniquet, but still by a long shot, mostly due to its accessibility and the successful increase in the use of synthesizers over guitars. Pinpointing a particular genre here is somewhat fruitless, but the sound is reminiscent of late 70s/early 80s new wave, landing somewhere between modern artfulness and nostalgia, but thankfully not crossing over to either side. There’s a fine balance of rockers and more pop-oriented tracks, but the latter stand out and invite further listening, as the allure of the pop hooks on Morning Sickness and Red will show time and time again.
Unlike most of the torrential outpouring that is Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’ solo career (last time we checked, around thirty albums), Bosnian Rainbows reveals itself as an approachable record from the first listen, and it’s all to the band’s credit. Teri’s voice does a nearly flawless job across the board, ranging from the most soothing melodies to menacing howls, all with apparent ease. Deantoni Parks is as skilled as ever, but the rhythm section never gets too complex for its own sake. As for Rodriguez-Lopez, his imprint as Volta’s guitarist is noticeable only on few occasions, such as an unmistakable guitar echoing in the background of I Cry For You, which is then replaced for some decidedly un-Volta riffing for the chorus. Any misinformed, casual fan of the guitarist would have a hard time actually finding out he’s in this record.
The band’s debut makes for a pleasant listen with few genuine surprises. Turte Neck, despite its start as a beautifully subdued ballad, jumps into a proper jammed-out midsection, which lasts just long enough to make the reintroduction of the quieter bit come as a surprise in the end. Meanwhile, closer Mother, Father, Set Us Free, which halfway through morphs into a rocker that rises and grows into a different beast, isn’t quite “prog” by nature, but still impressive.
In the end, Bosnian Rainbows’ debut provides fascinating insight into what a writing process looks like when Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is not in full control, and deserves to be heard by a more diversified audience than just fans of the Volta. The band certainly succeeded in moving away from expectations and being its own, separate entity, and every song on the record works within its own terms – it’s just a shame that they didn’t aim a little higher. Given how well the band gelled from the get-go, we’re anxious to see what they can come up with next, as there’s certainly room for growth.
You can purchase or stream the album over at the band’s BandCamp page.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.