Isaiah "Ikey" Owens plays keyboard and synth for prog rock supergroup The Mars Volta, and his side project, Free Moral Agents, dabbles in similar frenetic math rhythms. On Agents' sophomore album, Mendee Ichikawa's vocals range from stormy to ethereal, but she almost always sounds like a mythical goddess prescribing the fate of the world from the clouds.
"Systole" begins with haunted house keyboards before breaking into a dreamy gallop fortified by beats that seem to imply unrest on the brink of a riot. In "Gem From a Broken Rock," the details of Owens' talents come through as his electronic contraptions evoke planes flying overhead, stars sparkling (if that actually made a sound) and windy torrents.
Surprising elements can be as small as a couple of duck-like quacking chords or as big as an entire song that seems like a tribute to Dido's "Thank You." As one might expect in such experiments, there are some missteps. Opener "North is Red," for instance, sounds like a mystical parade through far off Asian lands until the mood is deflated by an assault of free jazz horn soloing.
Failed attempts aside, the album's alchemic qualities produce the feel of an epic journey with mapless roads through mercurial landscapes.
Free Moral Agents plays the Palace Friday, Nov. 5, at 9 PM, with 2Mex, Joey & the Enkrypted Rainbeau and Angel Dust. $5.