When they toured the UK last winter, Bosnian Rainbows were an interesting but uncontroversial prospect. Their creative chief, The Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez Lopez, has always juggled musical projects and this was just another electronic, kosmiche-influenced feather in his cap.
That was before The Mars Volta’s co-founder Cedric Bixler-Zavala publicly disbanded that band on Twitter, blaming Omar’s focus on this new group. The weight of that fact, as well as expectation of what one of modern prog’s leading lights would produce next, has surely affected expectations surrounding this record.
From atmospheric opener Eli on, this record charts a path familiar to Rush fans in the late 80s – that of a hard rock band toying with new wave. Their leaders’ guitar antics remain just as provocative, with reversed motifs, stabs of noise and scalic experimentation aplenty, but underpinning it all are Nicci Kasper’s synths and Deantoni Parks’ fusion drumming. Motorik-inspired one minute, deliciously syncopated the next, the drum licks have a sparse, clean quality that leaves more space for the compositions to breathe and develop. It’s a world away from sometimes claustrophobic density of The Mars Volta’s last record, Noctourniquet.
The other notable difference of course is Teri Gender Bender’s vocal, which spans the gulf between soft intimacy on Turtleneck and effect-heavy howls of emotion on I Cry For You. For the most part however, she sticks to a melodic style, on tracks like Dig Right In Me. Above all else she’s close in tone to Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders.
Of course, with Rodriguez-Lopez’s abstract guitars swelling through rotary speaker effects and layers of delay, the song pulls up short of being a revivalist pastiche, instead forming at times an uneasy but nevertheless vital fusion. The Eye Fell In Love meanwhile is closer to The Mars Volta in style, with wiry guitar leads playing off a krautrock backing that gradually builds in intensity to an off-beat crescendo. Once again, it’s a triumph of Rodriguez-Lopez’s brazen guitar playing to segue so naturally between such disparate styles, a trait held in common with lead track Torn Maps, which bears a passing resemblance to Rush’s The Spirit Of Radio.
What’s most apparent from this excellent collection is just how clearly Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and his collaborators embody the true spirit of progressive rock. Whether or not The Mars Volta needed to be shelved for this record to be made is another story, but the fact that it should be such a departure lends Bosnian Rainbows quality and importance in and of itself.