Best of 2016: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's "Arañas en La Sombra"
By Jake Paxton
There is a man named Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and he is responsible for millions of headaches, heartaches, and if you've seen him live, aches of the body. Beginning in the early 90s, Rodriguez-Lopez has been performed with countless projects and productions and a quarter of a century later shows absolutely no sign of slowing down. His most notable projects are The Mars Volta, At the Drive In, Sparta, Antemosque, Bosnian Rainbows; the list goes on and on. This year has indeed been a productive year for him as he has released twelve solo studio full length albums, one of which is my pick of favorite album of 2016. The album is called Arañas en La Sombra, or translated, Spiders in the Shadows.
Yes, Rodriguez-Lopez has a habit of releasing music in an unusual fashion and he has decided to release twelve full LPs, one a week for twelve weeks straight. This does not include the new album he has been producing for At the Drive In, their first release since 1999 which will be released early 2017. Arañas en La Sombra is a collaborative production with John Frusciante, long time guitarist of Red Hot Chili Peppers and long time friend and collaborator. Frusciante is usually found pushed into strange realms by Rodriguez-Lopez's strong experimental vision in music, abandoning his signature funky style and embarking on a journey into something completely unique.
The album opens with a 30-second soundbyte of what seems to be a small child laughing at the crazed sounds of a baboon, titled “No Hoy Intengencia.” Interesting start. It could be a metaphor but it is far more likely probably random. The album then careens in to a driving indie-punk Spanish rock odyssey, one that delights and intrigues the listener. Many tracks seem to bear no apparent genre or continued sonic theme. Take the best parts of The Mars Volta, cram them into an At the Drive In song format, them layer them with hazy vocals peppered with beautiful Spanish imagery and you have something highly addictive leading to “Un Mar Amargo,” a personal favorite about mid way through the record.
Atmosphere is something that is my biggest consideration when appreciating music I haven't heard before. How does it make me feel? WHERE does it make me feel? Where do I feel like I am when I close my eyes and listen? Rodriguez-Lopez has a gift of taking you somewhere beautiful and strangely frightening and he has reached farther than ever before with this particular work. The album flows like an old wooden roller coaster, building you up, lurching you around, taking you on sudden dives all coming to a safe and satisfying resolution. He is truly an artist that can wow you with technicality, and also lull you with an appropriated simplicity.
I mostly share this one in particular because it seems to be so unjustly under the radar, buried in a sea of the own artist's annual productions. The album is like a dirty secret, a ticket to a very personal adventure, and though you might not understand his Spanish, the feeling is there and that is exactly what made me fascinated with music as a small child and why I am still fascinated with it a quarter of a century later.