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.

Pre-Coachella Party: !!! + Zechs Marquise @ Detroit Bar

Nic Offer of !!! likes to dance

Marcel Rodriguez Lopez and Marfred Rodriguez Lopez of Zechs Marquise chop it up at Detroit Bar

The two bands playing Costs Mesa’s intimate, chic-grunge Detroit Bar Thursday night were big. Too big.

Too big for the stage they took, in sheer size, sound and force. Big enough to play Coachella too, to thousands of screaming fans. But on the Thursday night before Coachella weekend, I caught these two astounding bands up close…and for a lot less money.

The night started with instrumental mind-melting jams from Zechs Marquise, the buzzworthy El Paso, Texas prog-rock outfit that not only sounds like The Mars Volta’s little brother, but actually includes three of them. Marfred, Marcel and Rikardo Rodriguez-Lopez play bass, drums and keys respectively, and happen to be the younger siblings of infamous Mars Volta guitarists Omar Rodriguez Lopez. (Drummer Marcel Rodriguez Lopez plays in the Omar Rodriguez Lopez Group).

I discovered these guys when they opened for friends and Sargent House labelmates RX Bandits at The Glasshouse in Pomona a few months back. And while I was blown away then, Thursday’s set was insane. Grooving basslines meshed with frenetic guitar riffs, while Marcel was astoundingly able to keep up to constantly changing rhythms. No singing, but a great prog-rock fix when you’ve already mastered the entire Volta collection.

Next up was veteran psychedelic dance-funk !!! (pronounced Chk Chk Chk). The Sacramento-based band has been starting parties since 1996 and continues to put on an extremely energetic and fun live show. Lead singer Nic Offer handles most of the entertainment with his sexual dance moves that look a little like humping. By the second song, Offer was in the crowd singing face to face with all the fans. It was nuts.

!!! released a new album recently, entitled “Strange Weather, Isn’t It?” Standout tracks are “AM/FM”, “Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass”, and “Hollow”.

Zechs Marquise, formed in 2009, has been touring on their first full-length, “Our Delicate Stranded Nightmare.” A new record on the way. Expect your mind to be blown.

LIVE VIDEOS from both performances below:

I Am A Wild Orchid Child!

With a nod to old school favorite “Three MCs and One DJ” by the Beastie Boys, my latest musical obsession Wild Orchid Children recently released a new music video for the song “Ahead Of Us The Secret.”

It’s a front-row seat to an 11-minute-long, epic jam session that is nearly triple the length of the original video for the same song (watch that one below). I can’t help but smirk at the Seattle seven-piece’s ironic sense of primal Americana, noted by the flags, ponchos and Minnetonka-style fringe boots.

I wasn’t complaining about the first one, but they definitely cranked it up to a whole new level with this one.

This supergroup, formed from Gatsby’s American Dream, Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground and Forgive Durden, has got to be the new Sound of Animals Fighting — another epic, prog-rock super band with members from Circa Survive and RX Bandits.

Three MCs and One DJ:

Ahead Of Us The Secret (Original):

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.

Ratatat rocks the Fox, RX Bandits polish off third straight night at the Troubadour

Ratatat @ The Fox Theater in Pomona. Photo by Daniel Ucko.

IT was a double header concert weekend Friday and Sunday with RATATAT and RX Bandits.

AMAZING visuals from Ratatat, the electronic duo that combines video game synths with blazing guitar riffs to create a monstrous, head-bobbing sound.

There were two giant glass panels on either side of the stage, probably a good 50 feet high. Each one had a projector pointed at it from behind, creating ultra-real 3-dimensional images like a violinist and celloist dressed in Victorian-era white wigs and getup. Cue in the X-shaped neon lights on the back of the stage and add the massive pull-down screen with music videos and strange visuals being projected to match or contrast the panels.

For a band that makes completely instrumental music, the sounds are funky enough and change frequently to keep the ears tingling all night long.

RX Bandits was a completely different style concert at the Troubadour in West Hollywood.

The Troubadour has got to be my favorite venue simply because of its size. Its a tiny, divey club on the outskirts of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood and you can get so close to the bands there that you taste the sweat from stage.

RX Bandits have been a favorite of mine for a few years now, since I re-discovered them in college and realized their music style had progressed along the same line as my own tastes. No longer ska-punk, and more reggae-funk experimental prog-rock, it must have been a career milestone for the Long Beach fourpiece, celebrating their growth and indie-level success by performing their three previous albums in entirety from Friday thru Sunday.

So they played “The Resignation”, “…And The Battle Begun” and “Mandala” from front to back, side to side and kept the crowd moving, grooving and singing along.

LA Weekly put it nicely HERE in a weekend highlight.

Love these guys and love how far they’ve come.

They never put on a bad show and since interviewing them at Cal Poly Pomona a couple years ago, I still feel like I know the guys – Matt, Steve, Joe and Chris.

“Mandala”, which I reviewed HERE on its release, is RX Bandits’ most melodic and transcendental album, blending Embree’s soulful voice with flying guitar solos, smooth Rhodes keys and ever-changing rhythms.

Check out one of the awesome percussion jam-outs below:

Now have a listen to “White Lies” by RX Bandits and see what I’m talking about. Click below or on Box.net widget on the right to download the track.


rx bandits mandala

rx bandits' "mandala" is the best of the latest

I’m waiting for Rhino Records to call me with my copy of Portugal. The Man’s “The Satanic Satinist,” the new one everyone is talking about. I couldn’t find it at Target, Best Buy or Rhino last week! I’m a little in the dark, waiting for my own copy to give it a listen. Sure it’s good, though – “Church Mouth” is one of my favorite albums. And “Censored Colors” was good, but overlooked.

I just downloaded Grizzly Bear‘s new one, Veckatimest. I have to say, I’m not a fan. I’ve gotten about halfway through the album and I’m not sure what the fuss over this band is. They’ve got some good qualities, but overall I get very bored listening.

This SoCal beach-based band has been around for 14 years, and evolved from a second wave ska act to something with far too many labels to full encompass them (progressive, reggae, ska, rock, funk to name a few). I interviewed the guys when they came to Cal Poly last fall, and just caught them on their headlining tour with Dredg at the House of Blues in Anaheim. Killer, to say the least. Their sound gets more off the wall with each record, and for me, that tends to be a good thing. “Mandala” is no different. Gets better with each listen. UPDATE: check box widget on the sidebar to download a track from “Mandala”!

Now, something a bit disappointing was The Mars Volta’s new one, “Octahedron.” I expect a lot from this band, who is now on its fifth album and has a very strong cult-like following of prog rockers, scenesters and hipsters. “Octahedron” is so-so. It’s got a few cool tracks, like “Cotopaxi,” but is nothing new. It’s easy to forget. I still have got to claim “Frances The Mute” as my favorite. Closely followed by “De Loused” and a few tracks from “Amputechture,” like the 11-minute “Meccamputechture” Now that’s the Volta I know. “Octahedron” is sort of just there. Doesn’t do anything significant for me. Just a bit too mellow for this outlandish band, who I still can’t wait to see at Outside Lands in San Francisco in about a month.

Lastly, I just saw mega mashup DJ Girl Talk @ The Fox Theater in Pomona Friday night. Great, great venue. Three bars, space for 2,000, multiple rooftop lounges. Rad. I was unsure of going to see a DJ headline a show at a venue much larger than your typical LA club. While the free show only brought out maybe 1,000, Girl Talk got 40+ people dancing on stage with him his whole show, and got me and the rest of the crowd dancing. Mixing tracks from “Feed The Animals” (download it there…you pay what you want) and “Night Ripper” with an eclectic variety of other mainstream and classic hits and beats, Gregg Gillis aka Girl Talk impressed. Not to mention, the guy plastic wraps his laptop so his sweat doesn’t get all over it.

Hit me up if you need some tracks. I’ve got the tuneage.

How Gong I’m Gonna Be Lawn

Track 9 on Facing New York’FNYs “Get Hot” is like the beginning of a journey in a dark, mystical tunnel.

“How Gong I’m Gonna Be Lawn” is a confusing ass name.

But the forresty sound effects and breathing noises in full stereo effect through my Bose computer speakers is phenomenal. A trumpet starts to melt in as the noises continue to build and speed up parallel to the simple keyboard notes and bass line keeping the rhythm moving.

It’s not until about a minute and half into the song, it really starts going…which is nothing even close to out of the ordinary for any prog-rock band. With Floyd influences abound, The Oakland-based trio give the full experience with a pretty regular-sized collection of regular-length songs.

But whether its 3 minutes or just under 6 – like track number 9 – they pack the punch into songs that take on the form of anything but regular.

Each one is a new journey, a perfect soundtrack to the mysterious adventures of a stoner exploring himself and the world on the Internet on an otherwise quiet Saturday night.

There’s a sweet blend of slow to fast, and quiet to loud in almost all of the 11 tracks with only a few moments to lag that get passed up when the songs build to full-on experimental jazz rock.

I’ve blogged about this band and this CD twice in four blogs, but I promise I’ll get into the other stuff.

As the journey of a man nears its end, he comes to a slow realization of what he needs to do: be more himself.

Eric Frederic leaves you off with a line perfect for the old enough to have hair on his face kind of scruffster: “Self-medicating through anonymous sex with the occasional hungover insight.”