It was pretty easy to find fault with the first four Mars Volta albums. All of them were basically the same dense slab of sonic masturbation — equal parts aural bliss and epic clusterfuck. And yet, the El Paso-based progressive rock band continued to sell more records and play to ever larger crowds, while defying current record-industry practices in about a hundred different ways. Octahedron, the band's fifth full-length, has got something going for it that the others didn't have: It's listenable.
Referred to as their "acoustic" album by singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, the 50-minute album is remarkably song-oriented. "Since We've Been Wrong" features a plaintive acid-rock guitar melody atop Bixler-Zavala's beautifully harmonized vocals. The opening of "Teflon" sounds like the musicians are ready to slip back into their previous modus operandi. But that immediately changes when the histrionics subside for the first verse, which is followed by a triumphant chorus. The band's trademark segues between tracks and moments of silence are still here. But these transitional devices seem to serve a better purpose this time around because the songs are stronger. It figures that this enigmatic band would put out their most accessible record at a time when talk of a reunion by Bixler-Zavala's previous group — post-hardcore icons At the Drive-In — threatens to completely overshadow it. — Jeremy Willets