Omar Rodriguez-Lopez - Sworn Virgins album review

Uneasy listening from a Mars Volta man returning to his roots

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez - Sworn Virgins album cover

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In terms of productivity, The Mars Volta and At The Drive-In’s brilliant, whippet-hipped guitar wizard Omar Rodriguez-Lopez makes Steven Wilson look like a bone idle layabout.

Sworn Virgins is the first in a series of 12 albums to be released throughout the second half of the year on a bi-weekly basis. These albums were recorded between 2008 and 2013, charting Rodriguez-Lopez’s work while he was based in Zapopan, Mexico, and his eventual return to El Paso, Texas. And Prog says that if Sworn Virgins is anything to go by, it’s very much the sound of a man exploring his own mental and creative space in glorious isolation.

A man exploring his creative space in glorious isolation.

In spirit, despite his excellent work with Antemasque (his project with long-term compadre Cedric Bixler Zavala), dub band De Facto and Bosnian Rainbows, this is as close as Rodriguez-Lopez has been to his punk roots since ATD-I’s victory lap at the turn of the century. After the wilfully swollen prog suites of The Mars Volta, Sworn Virgins finds him completely stripped back to the basics, just one man plugged into his computer and making avant noise for the sheer love of it. Hell, he didn’t even know himself that he was planning to release this stuff – it’s music made purely for personal satisfaction. No wonder Ipecac, the grand purveyors of the uncategorisable, came calling.

With his voice heavily distorted and often indecipherable, giving it the air of Jane’s Addiction on an epic comedown or The Fall on an all-time high, Rodriguez-Lopez zips from style to style like a ravenous mosquito. He sucks up spiky funk and intergalactic ambience on opener Pineapple Face, and a new wave, Cure-style atmosphere on To Kill A Chi Chi, with its chilly synths, mournful guitars and hissed, shadowy vocals, complete with the odd kittenish purr.

Fortuna mirrors David Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes with laser accuracy before dissolving into a glassy single synth note, Crow’s Feet puts a bluesy twist into the avant-garde, while Logged Into Bliss heads down the autobahn to bask in the cool shade of Krautrock. The resulting mix is jarring, challenging and intriguing, sometimes disturbing and sometimes joyful. It’s certainly never boring.

For a man who has always cherished musical freedom above commercial success, there’s a sense that this DIY approach is where his heart truly lies. And as the vaults continue to swing open every couple of weeks for the rest of 2016, you just know he’s already moved on to the next project.

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Emma has been writing about music for 25 years, and is a regular contributor to Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog and Louder. During that time her words have also appeared in publications including Kerrang!, Melody Maker, Select, The Blues Magazine and many more. She is also a professional pedant and grammar nerd and has worked as a copy editor on everything from film titles through to high-end property magazines. In her spare time, when not at gigs, you’ll find her at her local stables hanging out with a bunch of extremely characterful horses.