A Pleasant “Nightmare”: Zechs Marquise, November 16 at Mixtapes Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 08:53

Zechs Marquise

With its cryptic name, a fearless sound, and darkly dreamy cover artwork, there can be little doubt of the influence of the prog-rock titan The Mars Volta on the instrumental quartet Zechs Marquise. And it should come as little surprise that it's also a family influence.

Zechs Marquise will perform at Mixtapes in East Moline on Monday, and two of its members - brothers Marfred and Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez - are the siblings of The Mars Volta mastermind Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. (Marcel also plays with The Mars Volta.)

The shared genetics and tastes are evident on Zechs Marquise's studio debut, Our Delicate Stranded Nightmare. The music of both The Mars Volta and Zechs Marquise is a shadowy, dense, free-flowing stew flavored with the salsa music of their parents as well as jazz but based mostly on psychedelic and progressive rock. Both bands often float around without anchors.

That's frequently a curse for The Mars Volta, whose albums since De-Loused in the Comatorium have retained the aesthetic of that debut yet have felt airless and closed. It seems like a blessing on the Zechs Marquise record, which has a patience often lacking in The Mars Volta.

"A lot of the same influences are there ... but we take a different approach to what we're doing ... ," Marfred said in a phone interview last week. "Mars Volta's a little harder to digest for some people. ... We're a little more rooted in funk and hip hop." He said that audiences who check out Zechs Marquise note the similarities to The Mars Volta but add, "You guys are a lot more listener-friendly."

That's surprisingly true, even though Our Delicate Stranded Nightmare is experimental, largely ambient, and loosely structured. The key is that each track is limited to core musical ideas that have room to breathe and develop.

The album has plenty of merits, but it's downright amazing when one considers that most tracks were drawn from first or second takes of improvised, unrehearsed material, with minimal overdubbing. It would be hard to call anything of that nature "tight," but collectively and individually the tracks are never dull and don't wear out their welcomes.

"A lot of the compositions came after the fact, when we were in the editing room," Marfred said, noting that the three-minute "Chase Scene" was hacked from its original 10 minutes, and the eight-minute "Attack of the 40 Ft. Wave" was originally twice its final length.

The album was conceived as an EP, and the recording came several years after a nearly finished EP was erased by an apparently vengeful studio. (According to Marfred, the owners had a dispute with the recording engineer who was working with the band.) The band then bought its own recording equipment to prevent anything similar from happening.

A second full-length studio album is mostly done, Marfred said, and Zechs Marquise hopes to release it by March.

He added that the next record and the band's live shows aren't nearly as restrained as Nightmare.

In a show setting, Marfred said, many compositions have been re-worked. He pointed out a few songs that have been nearly gutted, with the band retaining the melody and perhaps an introduction or bass line. "We kind of made it feel like a new song," he said.

The record might not be representative of a concert, but Marfred said that's something the band aspires to: It wants to give audiences a reason to check out the band's live material (such as its debut EP) or see it again. With some bands, he said, one can just buy the studio albums, knowing that they'll be faithfully reproduced live.

Still, Our Delicate Stranded Nightmare shows how well the band shapes improv into something compelling and coherent.

Zechs Marquise will perform at Mixtapes (830 15th Avenue in East Moline) on Monday, November 16, with co-headliner Free Moral Agents and local openers MIJA and Fatima Blush also on the bill. The show starts at 6 p.m., and cover is $6.

For more information on the band, visit ZechsMarquise.com or MySpace.com/zechsmarquise.


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