Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Journeys Inward on ‘Corazones’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

[rating=8.00]ORL Corazones

As the second of a planned 12 releases from Omar Rodriguez-Lopez by year’s end, Corazones answers a few of the questions you might have had after the release of Sworn Virgins. The first, most immediate revelation is that in no way are we simply getting a single, 12-disc album each sold separately like so many illusions being used. No, the ORL dump is, indeed, 12 individual albums, each with their own sounds, styles, and themes.

Corazones is complete 180 from Sworn Virgins or, really, from most of Rodriguez-Lopez’s work in general. Where The Mars Volta and At the Drive-in thrived on musical chaos and complex arrangements, Corazones is more subdued; this gives it the distinction of being the most mellow and musically accessible album of ORL’s career. Gone are the blazing guitars and intricate time signatures, absent is the heaviness. What we’ve got is something mournful and introspective played largely on an acoustic.

But make no mistake, chaos still reigns. While musically the album is mostly straightforward, the Corazaones is a roller coaster of emotions, with plenty of ups, downs, twists, and turns as ORL purges the grief of his mother’s death. There’s a sort of western feel about the music that recalls a lone, silent hero facing off against the unknown in a vast, unfathomable desert. Here, the lone gunman is ORL, and the desert is his Superego as he comes to grips with both his mother’s loss and her impact on his life.

All of this leads easily into the second revelation, this one concerning ORL himself. As much as he’s always been one to defy convention, he’s been fairly reliable in that regard. While each of his former bands and current projects are indelibly stamped with their own uniqueness, they are, in a way, predictably unique. You more or less always know what you’re getting when ORL is involved, and as different as that might be from his last project, there’s still the familiarity of his presence to anchor everything firmly into waters that are categorically ORL in nature.

Here, he defies his own conventions, proving that, regardless of whatever else you might think about him or his music, Rodriguez-Lopez is an artist for whom expectations won’t do. He’s not just a one trick pony, concerned only with spaced-out metal jams. Though at times there are hints of ORL’s heady noodling, that’s not what’s at the heart of this release. Simplicity takes center stage here, feeling at times like an intimate, in home performance. While this is due largely to the production, Rodriguez-Lopez is really channeling his inner folk artist on this release, cautiously strumming as he bares his soul before a quiet audience.

Corazones is a challenging record nonetheless, especially for long term fans of ORL’s work. It’s jarring to hear the stylistic changes, especially when juxtaposed with Sworn Virgins, and the simplicity of the compositions borders occasionally on pop, which might be a turn off for some fans. Of course, some of these sounds have been explored previously in Rodriguez-Lopez’s solo work, like on 2009’s Old Money and 2011’s Telesterion and after several listens it’s difficult not to get lost inside of the emotional wastelands created here.

Opening with the haunting dirge, “We Feel the Silence,” it’s immediately clear that ORL is going for the emotional jugular, as he holds back none of the pain or morose introspection that comes with losing a parent. It feels very much like what it is: the opening steps of a longer journey towards acceptance and peace.

That’s not an easy journey to take, and ORL doesn’t hold back the feelings or sugarcoat the emotions. On “It Was Her,” Rodriguez-Lopez sings, “What do you want me to do/to make you love me/to make you want me/like you did before?” Given the album’s exploration of his mother’s death and ORL’s previous history with heroin addiction, it’s hard not to feel that right in the gut, a suckerpunch of remorse right to the diaphragm of your regrets and shame.

Even the in album’s lighter moments, like on “Five Different Pieces,” there’s still a tinge of melancholy that remains inescapable. There’s a superficial happiness to the music that melts away the closer you pay attention. The upbeat track sounds like any number of songs you might jam with the top down on a day of summer fun, and then you hear lyrics like “You made us all bleed/in five different shattered pieces.”

That’s the nature of grief, though. Even the happy moments are shadowed by pain when you’re caught in its grasp. Like so many things in life, grief is a spectrum, never yielding to the simplicity of black or white. There, in the grey area, lies Corazones. It’s an album of love and shame, pain and joy, truth and lies.

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