A Cocktail of Eccentricity and Mainstream Appeal
We have entered the final quarter of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s album release bonanza. From his understated cover of pop star Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” on Blind Worms, Pious Swine to the eclectic noise experimentations found on Infinity Drips, Rodriguez-Lopez’s treasure trove of previously unreleased material has treated his listeners to a bevy of sounds and styles. And Ipecac Records’ most recent release collaboration with the prolific iconoclast–who is now joined by his brother Marcel–marks a particularly striking departure from the adventurous, guitar-driven atmospheres that have always defined his catalog. In fact, his newest album, which is titled Weekly Mansions, features no guitars whatsoever, instead opting to delve into the depths of a retro, electro-dance sound.
The Rodriguez-Lopez brothers present their songs so that their more upbeat songs are featured on even-numbered tracks, while bizarre ambient snippets are strewn in between. For example, the album opener, “Essential Punishments,” continues the sonic explorations of Rodriguez-Lopez’s previous Ipecac release, Infinity Drips. It features harsh drones and disjointed rhythmic textures, which may cause listeners to believe that they are in for yet another unrelenting ORL noise project. However (fortunately) Omar and Marcel pick up the tempo on the second track, “Rotten Straw Lips,” which boasts a surprisingly consonant array of synth textures and vocal melodies. As the album continues, these highly digestible, dance-oriented songs continue to characterize Weekly Mansions’ sonic landscape. “Science Urges” crafts a dark, techno groove, accompanied by a wistful vocal delivery. “Sophia As Well” and “Get In There Before You Sour” both feature strong four-on-the-floor disco beats that help to establish a certain rhythmic catchiness that rarely appears in Omar’s work. The steady pulsing of “A Little Old Picnic in Fort Co” is even reminiscent of something that might be heard in the most stereotypical of dance club tracks. These thumping electro-pop flavors surely seem to be a direct result of Marcel’s contribution to the album, as they much more closely resemble his electronic output as Eureka the Butcher than that of his brother.
However, in true ORL fashion, Weekly Mansions never allows its listeners to truly absorb its mainstream qualities. The ringing dissonance of odd-numbered tracks such as “Want, Need, Sream In A Dream” and “Disheartening Envelope,” along with the stark minimalism of slightly more harmonious ambient cuts (e.g. “The Editor,” “Head Is Made of Straw” and “They Ain’t Kidding Me”) prevent Weekly Mansions from ever becoming strictly a “dance” album. This may disappoint some listeners craving forty minutes of straight head-banging. Yet this is an ORL album after all; a certain degree of esotericism is to be expected. Furthermore, the odd-numbered tracks found towards the back end of Weekly Mansions are able to tone down the dissonance to a much more palatable level, leading to the gorgeous blend of bell tones heard on “Head Is Made of Straw” (unfortunately, this refreshingly symphonic track is quite fleeting, abruptly cutting off before it reaches the 1:30 mark).
In Weekly Mansions, Omar and Marcel have crafted an engrossing–yet eclectic–collection of sonic environments. While the ambient explorations feel jarring and disjointed at times, cutting through the rhythmic stability established by the album’s dance-oriented tracks, when successful, they are able provide the perfect balance between eccentricity and mainstream appeal. If nothing else, the sheer breadth of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s stylistic ventures warrants admiration. It will be exciting to hear what new sounds he has in store for us with his final three LP releases of the 2016 year.