The Mars Volta, 'Octahedron' (Warner Bros.)

Critical Mass
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by Mikael Wood

Unless you're the kind of prog-rock nut who plans to buy I Love You, Man on DVD just to relive the scene at the Rush concert, you're probably suffering from an acute case of Mars Volta Fatigue right about now. (Symptoms include naming your child Parallax Symbiosis and ordering the "deaf con of Angora goats" at fancy restaurants.) Guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, in particular, has diluted the potency of the band's brand, issuing an endless string of increasingly impenetrable solo discs that make you wonder if the guy is paid by the note.

Given its typically foreboding title, Octahedron would not appear to be a cure for this disorder. Yet these eight tracks -- only one of which stretches past the eight-minute mark! -- actually make up the Mars Volta's most consistently compelling slab since 2005's salsafied Frances the Mute. Make no mistake: Rodriguez-Lopez still favors 12 solos where one will do, and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala's lyrics make no more literal sense than they ever have. But on gorgeous psych-soul ballads like "Copernicus" and "Since We've Been Wrong," these hardcore noise freaks show off a sensual streak, while fierce rockers such as "Teflon" and "Cotopaxi" burn with purpose, not just technique. "I can't believe anymore," Bixler-Zavala wails over an escalating punk-funk groove in "Desperate Graves." For the first time in a while, though, you might.

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