The Mars Volta

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.

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