PERIOD: Nascent (recorded 2001, released 2004)
Not much has been made of Omar’s desire to make films by anyone but Omar. It comes up infrequently in interviews, usually in tandem with discussions of the output he has and how casually he approaches releasing it, discussing how many finished albums he hasn’t finished and how he’s the same way with films. His first publicly viewed film, “The Sentimental Engine Slayer,” surfaced in 2010 and is currently touring the festival circuit. While a variety of named films show on his Wikipedia page, the only one widely known despite no public release is “A Manual Dexterity.”
“A Manual Dexterity” appears to be a charged film for Omar, deeply personal that was difficult to revisit after the passing of Jeremy Michael Ward, a founding member of The Mars Volta and a close friend. It’s fitting, then, that this album feels like it’s working around deep voids. The most obvious is the absence of the visual that the music is supposed to wrap around. It’s some of the more subtle composition work Omar has done because that’s the purpose it’s supposed to serve, and as such the album ends up serving a valuable purpose outside of the artist’s original intention, and it’s the reason this album is tagged as it is.
Said purpose? Due to the subtlety of the work, this album is an excellent primer to how Omar thinks about and composes music, as well as giving a chance for to appreciate how oddly naturalistic Omar’s compositions are. In interviews he’s described the two sides of his composition; the roots of punk and traditional Spanish music as well as his pursuit of pure expression, leading to a solid pop structure base with experimental guitar and sound manipulation being overlaid.
The whole of the album builds this incredible atmosphere around an empty space, ornate and disconcertingly familiar like the final scene of 2001. Maybe like A Manual Dexterity. The only thing I could even consider being a misstep is the outro of the album, after the abrupt arrival of frequent collaborative partner Cedric Bixler Zavala interrupts the sparse space the music had been creating. At the same time, Zavala’s lyrics give the only attempt at filling the void left by the film’s absence, so it’s difficult to judge too harshly.
This album’s importance as Omar’s first solo release along with being an easier listen than other albums of this period make recommending the album a logical conclusion. Also I guess now would be the time to mention this series is going by release chronology.