Ex-Mars Volta frontmen find new sounds

Former Mars Volta frontmen Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Cedric Bixler Zavala

Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala were the masterminds behind The Mars Volta. The band broke up in January and two have formed new groups: Bosnian Rainbow and Zavalaz.

The Mars Volta broke up in January. And considering the last few albums, it’s probably for the best.

For a while, nothing beat the psychedelic, Spanish-tinged prog-rock. In high school, I couldn’t get enough of De-Loused in the Comatorium or Frances the Mute. I remember driving right past my house on a summer night, Volta blasting through my ’88 Acura speakers, not allowing myself to go home until I got through the few acts of Cassandra Gemini.

Led by the high-pitched Cedric Bixler Zavala and guitar virtuoso Omar Rodriguez Lopez, The Mars Volta split earlier this year when Omar wanted to tour and spend all of his time on a new band, Bosnian Rainbows.

Cedric and Omar have gone their separate ways for now, and Omar brings his incredible musicianship and absolute shredding to more low key, dark and beautiful music. Combined with the vocal talents of Terri Gender Bender, ex-Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks and keyboardist Nicci Kasper, they create a sound described as ethereal, yet direct.

The closest music that fits the description is Bat for Lashes, another band that features lush synthesizers, female vocals and layer after layer of atmospheric soundscape.

Cedric has gone his own way too, starting up a new band that couldn’t sound more different. He’s brought along the former Mars Volta bassist Juan Alderete to create a more groove-worthy, classic rock sound.

Ironically, both bands recently toured San Francisco within a week of each other. Zavalaz played Cafe Du Nord on June 21st and Bosnian Rainbows headlined a show at the Great American Music Hall last night, June 28.

I was lucky enough to catch Bosnian Rainbows live last night at the Great American Music Hall, for the second time in a handful of months (the first at The New Parish in Oakland). Lopez’s rapid-fire fingers and deep guitar grooves make him a performer that cannot be missed.

In Bosnian Rainbows, he plays the role of teammate and band member much more than band leader, likely because of the collaborative nature he has mentioned about this group. Omar was basically director of Mars Volta, which tended to mean dictator. The shredding takes a back seat, but is still prominent, and Lopez even lends his voice to a few tracks, something he never did live with the Volta.

Zavalaz, at least on the surface, is the weaker of the two. Cedric is talented, and his omnipresent whines and wild lyrics that thread in and out of Spanish and English lend better to a concept band like The Mars Volta than a straight rock outfit like Zavalaz. I’m eager to see the direction this band goes and whether the sum of the Volta parts is, or is not, greater than the whole.

Stream the entire Bosnian Rainbows on Bandcamp and stay tuned for recordings and more tour dates from Zavalaz.

Wild Orchid Children will blow your mind

WILD ORCHID CHILDREN spawned from the dust of the unofficial, no longer indefinite hiatus taken by early ’00s alternative/progressive rock/pop band Gatsbys American Dream.

They are one of many side projects started by Gastby members that has blossomed into far more than just a project. Or a side. The supergroup features Kirk Huffman (vocals), Kyle O’Quin (keys) and Ryan Van Wieringen (baritone guitar & percussion) from Gatsby’s American Dream, alongside three other guys rocking guitars, percussion and effects. (Wild Orchid Children doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia entry yet – it’s embedded under Side Projects within the page on Gatsby).

But let’s get to the point.

This bombastic album sounds like nothing you’ve heard before, while at the same bringing enough familiar noises and jams that associations to any modern indie/prog group are safe to make. Think Mars Volta-style mind-bending beats, with Rage Against The Machine’s Zack de La Rocha-esque vocals and Portugal. the Man instrumentation.

It’s BIG. And adventurous.

The second track, “Black Shiny FBI Shoes” clocks in a little over 18 minutes long, and a good portion of that comprises of an extended percussion jam. It’s no “Moby Dick” (Led Zeppelin) but it is damn good — changing tribal beats dance to the sound of noodling electric guitar, keeping your ears perked with curiosity about what comes next.

Kirk Huffman takes vocal duties here, but sings nothing like his normal self. He has got a very talented and unique singing style, but he throws any sense of melody out the window with Wild Orchid Children. He’s more screaming than singing, and the closest thing you could compare would be de La Rocha – if he were performing through a megaphone, that is.

Now this is no concept album like Volta’s “Frances The Mute” or Coheed and Cambria’s last four albums. It doesn’t always flow from one song to the next, like one big acid trip.

But you don’t have to be high to appreciate the talent going on here.

The sixpiece named its album after Christopher McCandless, the character played by Emile Hirsch in “Into the Wild”, who infamously begins to call himself Alexander Supertramp while living in the wilderness.

Rich with cultural references, the group takes its title very seriously…as you can see by the wilderness motif, intact with real wild animals on the album cover, according to the liner notes.

Now I must note here: this is the first album I have purchased in a really long time.

My appetite for music consumption continues to grow and I have a list of nearly 50 bands I’m slowly getting around to checking out. Normally I look for a T-shirt/CD combo deal or make my contribution to the band by paying for concert tickets.

But this was a worthwhile cost, even if I payed twice as much at Rhino Records in Claremont as I would have at Best Buy.

Take a listen at the madness that is Alexander Supertramp. I’ve embedded “Peyote Coyote”, which has apparent influence from Zeppelin to the Beach Boys, Black Keys, White Stripes and even some cowbell that reminds me of the Cypress Hill/Tom Morello song from the new Green Hornet movie, “Rise Up.” Oh and don’t forget the creep vocal effect that transforms Huffman’s voice into something from a Mars Volta song about a minute in.

Like what you hear? Gatsbys American Dream is making a comeback this year. While you wait for the new tunes, listen to Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground (featuring Huffman and O’Quin, amongst others), Search/Rescue, RedRedBlue, Keith Ledger, Zero Cool, Razia’s Shadow, Princess Dinosaur, Places and Numbers, TickTockMan, or any solo work from any of these madly prolific musical dudes.

Pomplamoose get’s loose

In a land of constant pop culture re-hash, POMPLAMOOSE stands apart from the usual viral video stars splattered all over the Internet.

The couple, Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte, have been making “videosongs” together on YouTube since 2008.

I just discovered them on Current.com and I can’t get enough of their sweet, pop-funk-jazz medlies, most of which are covers of famous songs.

We’ve got “Telephone”, “Put A Ring On It”, “Beat It”, and even some Earth, Wind & Fire and Nat King Cole.

After reeling from last week’s Lady GaGa/Beyoncé epic, 9-minute “Telephone” video slash commercial, I was excited to hear a rendition of the unfortunate song that I actually enjoyed listening to.

The Top 40 single’s substance is no better, but seeing Dawn’s soft green eyes stare plainly into the camera while boyfriend Conte bounces on the drums during stylistic edits is an absolute joy.

And both musicians are multi-instrumental: Dawn takes vocals and bass, while Conte can be seen on drums, guitar, keys, effects, xylophone and even accordion.

You can download a whole bunch of Pomplamoose cover songs for free HERE. Do it now!