Quantity comes not always at the cost of quality, and perhaps few modern musicians demonstrate this better than Omar Rodríguez-López. Being band leader of the seminal experimental and progressive rock powerhouse The Mars Volta and guitarist for long-running post-hardcore heroes At The Drive-In, Rodríguez-López’s career with just these two bands is impressive on its own. On top of this, Rodríguez-López is a prolific collaborator with a myriad of other musicians, from rapper, producer and half of hip hop duo Run The Jewels, El-P, to Californian funk rock legends Red Hot Chili Peppers. But despite all this, Rodríguez-López somehow manages to have an extensive solo career under his belt, with this new release, Roman Lips, being his 40th solo studio album, meaning Rodríguez-López must have one of the most voluminous discographies in rock history. However, what’s arguably more impressive than the amount of albums this artist has released is the continued quality of much of the music he is still churning out. Of course, it is inevitable that at least a handful of the albums released by such a prolific musician would be somewhat underwhelming, but Roman Lips stands out as another strong release to be added to Rodríguez-López’s ever-growing back catalogue.
For the most part, Roman Lips feels like a blues-tinged electronic rock record, with significant psychedelic and progressive vibes showing up on numerous occasions. Whilst nothing new in concept, there is nonetheless a feeling of individuality and innovation to this release, but it remains a heavily groove-based record that seeks to satisfy the listener’s longing for catchy rock hooks. With 14 tracks in the tracklisting and a 37-minute runtime, many of these tracks are rather fleeting with not one of them exceeding the four minute mark. Of course, as one might expect, that works to the advantage of some of these cuts, as no song overstays its welcome and hits the listener with the quick fix of groovy rock they need. Moreover, this record is rather stripped back in terms of instrumentation and personnel. The album features Rodríguez-López providing the vocals and guitars, as is to be expected, along with synthesizers, sequences and production. Long-time collaborator of Rodríguez-López’s, Deantoni Parks, is the only other musician to appear on this release, providing drums and samples.
Roman Lips starts out strong with the title track, which kicks in with no fuss caused. The track has a solid, steady groove to it, and the dirty synths sound great in the mix, providing good support for the cleaner, bluesy guitar riff. Despite being just two and a half minutes, the track progresses nicely, particularly in the second half when the guitar and a newly-added lead synth come in with a catchy lick, before a punchy chromatic guitar riff finishes the track off. As previously mentioned, the tracks on this album never overstay their welcome, but there are some instances in which I wish the cuts were longer, and the title track is a good example. The second half of the song consists of two sections that hadn’t been featured in the first half, so the composition could have been more padded out as not to feel like it was over a bit too quickly. Nonetheless, this is a great track, and I should also mention that the production is fantastic, with the synths sounding potent and the guitar sounding gutsy, making it a really satisfying listen when turned up through your headphones.
The following track, Sequester Chagall, has a great, lumbering groove during the verses, with some whacked-out wah guitar work hanging in the back and the reappearance of the fuzzy synths, albeit worked more subtly into the mix this time around. The chorus on this track is really satisfying, especially with the pause in the drumming as the lead guitar incidentals and Rodríguez-López’s vocals fill in the blank space. A similar style of groove appears on Bitter Tears, but these two tracks feel wildly different. The vocals on Bitter Tears are more punctuated and give the track a notable character as a result. However, the personality of this cut mainly comes from the weird vocal samples that are incorporated throughout the song and almost seem like they were intended to be part of the rhythmic structure. Whilst the idea is creative and it has a unique flavour to it, I’m not sure that the samples are all that necessary, as I don’t see the track sounding any less strong without them, plus they may arguably distract from the other instrumentation.
Upon Golden Ice has a much more notable electronic influence on it than a lot of other cuts on Roman Lips. The wobbly synth bass sounds as if it were pulled straight out of a modern funk track, and the glitchy synths that flutter around the other instrumentation throughout the track seem to be clearly pulled from modern electronic music. This track also feels like one of the more progressive songs on here, particularly as a result of the 9/8 section in the second half of the cut, which also really demonstrates Parks’ incredible ability as a drummer as he keeps time perfectly whilst playing around with some incredibly technical patterns.
He Gave Me a Key to Nothing features the same-old dirty synths holding a steady, bluesy groove with an interesting, twinkly lead played over the top. The chorus of this track is a nutty breakdown where different parts of the instrumentation all seem to go off and do their own things, but all manage to sound somehow intertwined. It almost feels like the song is crumbling away during this section, only to come back completely whole as the steady groove of the verses kicks back in. The backend of this track features the first appearance of some dirty, distorted guitar playing from Rodríguez-López, as most of his playing up until now has been clean. His guitar has a fantastic tone to it, and it seems that the crunchy distortion was used deliberately as to juxtapose the lead that enters at the same time, sounding almost like a flute fluttering over the guitar part.
At this point, I feel like I’m just picking songs from the tracklisting and listing all the cool noises that are featured on them, but, at the end of the day, this record is pretty straightforward in its charm. It features great grooves, memorable melodies, interesting instrumentation that would appeal to fans of many different styles of rock music, and is just all around a really fun listen. I wouldn’t urge people to go into this thing expecting anything ingeniously original, rather just stick it on and see for yourself whether you can get down with these dynamic electronic rock tracks.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10