The dangers of mold breaking
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has had a complicated time as a musician and a person. Once hailed as the savior of post hardcore/prog rock in the modern era, he has tumbled from those great heights through a series of conflicts that have driven wedges between his once legendary bands. On Blind Worms, Pious Swine, Lopez illustrates an artist attempting to break from his pre-determined mold and finding little of value outside it.
One of the most upsetting things about the album is its incredible start. “Vanishing Tide” is immediately reminiscent of a slower Mars Volta song, featuring Lopez’s signature ethereal singing floating effortlessly over twinkling guitars similar to those found in bands such as From Indian Lakes. The track possesses this light airy beauty like a sweet lullaby or a serenade between young lovers, making it one of the clear standouts on the album. The next song “Atlantis is Rising” continues with darker prog rock influences, with menacing synths lurking in the background throughout the track. The guitar playing, while not immediately special in any technical sense is thematically strong, shifting between rock riffs and anxious high notes as the song progresses between verses and refrains conveying a nervous energy throughout the song. “Black Mass” is not a bad track in and of itself, but following the previous two it seems to lack, unable to choose between being an uplifting pop song or a concerned anthem. It carries over the nervousness of “Atlantis,” but attempts to imbue it with positive pop energy, causing it to seem wholly insincere.
It is at this point that the album goes entirely off the rails. “Lights” is a completely inexcusable cover of the song “Lights” by Ellie Goulding, which attempts to turn the empowering pop anthem into somber song with instrumentation seemingly xeroxed poorly from Radiohead’s Amnesiac era. Instead of attempting to right the ship, with “Tunnel Riot” Lopez continues down the rabbit hole of more accessible tunes. “Tunnel Riot” channels Angles-era Strokes, which is a completely inadvisable move no matter who you are, and speaks for itself about the quality of the track. “Savage Letters” continues the records downward spiral, attempting to sound important or unique through its use of the piano, possessing an energy that one would imagine seeing at a ball in an especially light but unoriginal Guillermo Del Toro film. While the piano and guitar are technically sound and more complex than a large portion of the album, they fall short because of a crippling inability to remain engaging for more than half a moment. “Mariposa” is more of the same, attempting to be a prog pop song, and managing to fall completely flat with its by-the-numbers choruses and pre-chorus minor crescendo that is unable to push the listeners heart rate beyond a resting patter. Fortunately, the album regains its footing for the next three tracks, all of which are exciting callbacks to The Mars Volta era of Lopez’s career. Each of the three tracks are engaging instrumental whirlwinds that are a sad reminder of what this album could have been. The closer “Only Nothing Is” blends in well with the previous tracks, showing a sense of focus that the album was so clearly lacking, allowing the album to close on a desperately needed high note.
Blind Worms, Pious Swine is an upsetting reminder of the risks of experimentation within ones style, and an equally harrowing reminder of what can happen when an album lacks focus. Were it not for the center five tracks this album could have been a respectable EP. Instead, we are left with a collection of strange unappealing tunes book ended by the Lopez that the world has come to know and love. This album does however present an interesting predicament for listener. On one hand, you have an artist pushing their boundaries into something they feel is meaningful, which is a noble pursuit regardless of outcome. On the other hand, you have a mess of an album that couldn’t choose between experimentation or a well carved out lane, leaving it unfocused and un-engaging. It forces the listeners to carry the unwieldy burden of choosing between support of artistic endeavor, or punishment for failure.