If you’ve followed the prolific solo output of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, guitarist of the recently defunct progressive rock band The Mars Volta, you would be witness not only to a staggeringly large body of work, but also a creative trajectory that has slowly taken him away from the claustrophobic psycho-noise of his earlier work and into a more subdued, deliberate sound that finds itself with much more room to breathe.
Omar’s latest project, Bosnian Rainbows, follows the direction of his solo work while colliding with the punk-laced vocals of Teri Gender Bender, previously of Le Butcherettes. Drummer Deantoni Parks, who has worked with Omar on many solo albums and provided the drum tracks for The Mars Volta’s final album Noctourniquet, as well as Nicci Kasper on keyboard, fill out the rest of the band’s lineup.
Despite the legacy and presence of Omar, Bosnian Rainbows doesn’t sound like just another solo noise experiment. Omar has made it clear that he is taking a step back from his traditionally dictatorial role in the rehearsal room and it shows. Bosnian Rainbows is a new band from the ground up, and for the first time, the star of the show isn’t Omar.
Teri Gender Bender is the beating heart of Bosnian Rainbows. Her voice is that of a banshee’s – at once disturbing and beautiful, towing the line between artistic dissonance and catchy hooks. Songs like “Worthless” showcase her at her weirdest, and the hook of the band’s first single “Torn Maps” is pleasantly odd. But tracks like “Dig Right In Me” and “Always On The Run” reveal a girl who has punk in her soul, and she proves that there’s still enough of it in her to let it explode.
Deantoni Parks has traded in his rigid, aggressive technique heard on Noctourniquet for a fantastically natural minimalistic approach that lets the songs flow into a pocket and find room to go wild while he holds them back just enough.
Indeed, the songs on Bosnian Rainbows’ debut album are subtler, catchier, and more succinct post-punk tracks than anything that Omar has put together before, but that doesn’t mean they’re dumbed down. This is still a house with a tall fence, but it’s one that serves only to make you want to climb over and discover what’s on the other side, not actually keep you out.
Omar may not be the main attraction in terms of performance this time around, but his presence is still undeniable. The iconic buzzing of his dirty electric surges around the more pop-infused landscape of the album, but he still finds space to cut loose. The album gets truly aggressive in some passages, pushing the listener away with the full extent of the arm, but in such a way that challenges the listener to push back.
Some of the most surprising curve balls on the album are not in how noisy it can get, but in how ingeniously poppy it can get. The track “Red”, with its pulsating synth, almost sounds like it could be a Robyn single. It’s songs like this where Teri and especially keyboardist Nicci Kasper really own it. Kasper’s keyboard lines are what really gave the album its identity upon first listen. It’s the groundwork for the construction of almost every song, and it is such a different element than Omar’s guitars that the keys really stand out as something exciting when heard beside them.
The whole album goes through a lot of different experiments with each track, but I found no track really captured the entire experience better than “Turtle Neck”. The song showcases the best interplay between Teri’s voice and Omar’s songwriting, and the song’s chorus really has every single member of the band putting in their absolute best ensemble performance. While the first half of the song is a beautiful, dreamy indie-rock jam with a solid danceable beat, the second half launches into one of the most screeching, frightening, Volta-esque breakdowns on the whole album. Omar possesses his guitar, making it sound as ugly as possible while the rest of the band slams into a thick groove, with Teri wailing over all of the madness. But before they all get lost, the noise relinquishes, a glimmering chord is struck, and the band comes up for air… And every time, I feel like I’ve been holding my breath.
Maybe that’s the best thing to be said about Bosnian Rainbows. They’re not writing pop songs, or punk songs, or noise songs – they’re writing all of them at once, and they’re not going to wait for you to catch your breath.