The Mars Volta
Not to get all up in your grill, William Safire-style, but there's a real etymological crisis going with the word "keening." It's a noun that means "a wailing lament," or the act of creating same, but many journalists — especially arts critics and the like — choose to brandish it as an adjective, i.e. "a keening wail." Sacrilege, I say! But also quite tempting when describing high-register vocal geniuses like Cedric Bixler Zavala, the Mars Volta lyricist whose tortured, genderless, Geddy Lee-meets-Ann Wilson singing style truly sounds like keening incarnate. Along with guitarist and co-founder Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and a somewhat fluid roster of rhythm musicians and "sound manipulators," Zavala prowls modern prog-rock's most commercial border, creating slick, emotion-charged concept albums that rock like Led Zeppelin and beggar scrutiny like a Sufi mystic. Ever prog-prolific, the band recently released its fifth studio LP in seven years: Octahedron, a tonally gorgeous eight-song disc featuring two excellent singles ("Since We've Been Wrong," "Cotopaxi"), a rare foray into electronica ("Copernicus") and, of course, some really first-rate keening.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.