Sound Advice: The Mars Volta is Finally Back After Decade-Long Absence — and Performing in Cincinnati Later This Month

“It’s been over a decade since we last played in Ohio. Cincinnati, who’s ready?”

click to enlarge The Mars Volta performs at the Andrew J Brady Music Center on Sept. 30. - Photo: Clemente Ruiz
Photo: Clemente Ruiz
The Mars Volta performs at the Andrew J Brady Music Center on Sept. 30.
This story is featured in CityBeat's Sept. 20 print edition.

The Mars Volta resurfaced in 2022 after a decade-long absence that seemed like it might stretch on forever. And, boy, did the unpredictable Texas-bred outfit deliver something unexpected: The Mars Volta is a fittingly concise album title for their return: 14 sleek and accessible songs, only two of which reach the four-minute mark. It’s a curious, creative U-turn for a band — long led by the duo of vocalist Omar Rodríguez-López and guitarist Cedric Bixler-Zavala — known for labyrinthine, prog-infected songs and obtuse album titles like De-Loused in Comatorium, the 2003 debut that cemented their reputation as arty sonic scientists. Even the cover art this time — mysterious typescript over a basic two-tone tan backdrop — is a stark departure from the garishly colorful offerings of yore.

“We’ve been warning you guys — we were saying 10 years ago that the most revolutionary thing we could do was make a pop record,” Rodríguez-López said in a 2022 interview with The Quietus. “We’re in our mid-to-late 40s, and you can’t just still be doing the same shit, expecting to wear an old T-shirt that doesn’t fit anymore.”

“Graveyard Love,” a relationship song rife with metaphor and longing, sounds like a cross between M83 and Phoenix, as various electro elements mingle with guitar, skittering rhythms and Rodríguez-López’s high-pitched vocal delivery. “Shore Story” is awash in atmospheric synths and slinky, uncommonly restrained vocals revealing yet another relationship in peril: “If I can’t escape your hold, just let me go/Let me have this mutiny.”

The Mars Volta might be the band’s most straightforward set of songs, but that’s a relative statement given the creators in question — this is experimental pop with an oddly potent emotional pull.

So, what should we expect from a Mars Volta live set these days? If the band’s previous 2023 shows are any indication, be ready for a mix of songs from across their seven albums, with only the aforementioned “Graveyard Love” and “Shore Story” appearing consistently from the new stuff. The guys also have a message for Buckeye State listeners, per the social media platform previously known as Twitter: “It’s been over a decade since we last played in Ohio. Cincinnati, who’s ready?” 

The Mars Volta play the Andrew J Brady Music Center at 8 p.m. Sept. 30. Info:

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