The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute
Record label: Universal Records
Release Date: March 1, 2005
After the amazing Deloused in the Comatorium, The Mars Volta gave themselves two years to mess around with their confusing guitar sounds, vague lyrics, jazz and Latin influences. It turns out that Frances The Mute is the masterpiece some people are looking for, featuring arguably better musicianship, lyrical themes, and tighter sound than on their excellent debut.
What's inside is one hell of an adventure. This is a progressive concept album, mixing together jazz, odd time-signatures, unique guitar distortion, and the occasional trumpet. To top it all off, you're presented with a mess of ideas, vague lyrics depicting the protagonist of the story on some sort of search for his missing parents... or something like that.
Starting with the first track, "Cygnus.... Vismund Cygnus," Frances The Mute takes you on the first step of the journey. If this album's "like factor" was based on first impressions, then The Mars Volta got it right, as "Cygnus..." is one of the strongest tracks on the CD (granted, there are only five songs). It starts off with some Spanish-sounding guitar, and heads straight into a romp of craziness. With drums going everywhere, guitar outstretching the drums, and vocal ability to match the metallic funk (or funky metal, you pick) energy, it blows you away, almost coaxing you into the ambiance that then leads you into a closed hi-hat and snare side-taps, a much softer form of noise, a spiffy bass line, and, of course, a guitar solo that plays to an intense 29/16 time signature (that's right, no grace notes). It builds and builds and builds, and never feels rushed. When it's finally getting to the climax, Cedric Bixler-Zavala starts with his sweet vocals again, helping the song to build up until the final chorus, his vocal chords showing an insane amount of high range. After all this, the song fades ever so slowly into ambiance, setting the stage for the single, "The Widow".
Ironically, while "The Widow" was the poster-child single of Frances The Mute, I find it to be near the bottom of my favorite tracks on this CD. That's not saying it's a horrible song, because it's definitely a great example of their musicianship. Contrasting greatly with the album, and Mars Volta habits in general, "The Widow"'s actual music (meaning, minus ambiance) lasts about four minutes long, sticks to 6/4 time signature, relying on eerie vocals and brooding guitar to keep the groove going. It definitely sticks, and the solo is great, but, again, not the best track on the CD.
"L'Via L'Viaquez" starts off with ambiance that has more of a distinct beat to it, and then slaps your mind with a guitar solo by John Frusciante (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame), backed by funky bass and some more classical instruments. The song heads into Spanish vocals, and definitely proves that Cedric's vocal ability is phenomenal no matter what language he wants to speak at the moment. What stands out most in this song is the shift to Latin music, a welcome, if seemingly unfitting, twist (but really, it's the Mars Volta we're talking about here). "L'Via L'Viaquez" switches between these dynamics twice, each coming back to the more conventional rock sound. This song proves that backwards thinking can work.. "L'Via L'Viaquez" ends with more ambiance in the form of distorted, watery vocals, and subtle guitar noise.
"Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" is a song as long as its name implies. Clocking in at just under 12 minutes, it's the most psychedelic and ambient song on the CD, giving the listener a break from rushing music and mixtures of genres. It features trumpet (Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Spanish guitar, and background guitar from Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. Only near the end does it climax in blasting toms and bass drum, heavy bass, and guitars that make it sound like it could give you a heart-attack. The beginning and the ending of this song sound like they could belong in an epic soundtrack of some kind (which is something Frances The Mute could be considered, since it is a narrative concept album).
"Cassandra Gemini" might be the best track on the CD. It really does depend on your patience. While it doesn't take a lot of build-up in the beginning, like the other four songs, "Cassandra Gemini" is just intense, brooding vocals of Cedric being backed by intense fret-work and back-and-forth switches between singing and short guitar solos, and, all the while, drums just going everywhere. This song is probably the pinnacle of lyrical ability and progressive rock as a whole for The Mars Volta, since the song manages to change time signature, guitar sounds, drumming dynamics, and lyric composition many, many times in the thirty-plus minute masterpiece. It would be a hard and lengthy attempt to explain how amazing this song is, but, with its multiple guitar solos, differences in vocal effects, and the fact that it never stops pumping musical euphoria into the listener's ears, I could never do this song justice. Truly, this song could be released as an short album of its own.
The CD ends up being three minutes short of eighty. From beginning to end, the album is a prime example of how to mix every genre of rock together, plus some stuff from outside the box, without ruining things. This album is almost perfect, the small complaint that I have being that I just can't absorb half of what Bixler-Zavala ever says because of his amazing ability as a lyricist. Frances The Mute is more than a musical adventure into the prodigal minds of The Mars Volta, and is more than the best album of 2005. It's The Mars Volta, at their very best.
This is my second favorite album EVER! – only to Muse’s Absolution and they are only mili-points apart in my mind. The musicality and their ability to make nonsense somehow unequivocally logical is beyond me. Cedric’s vocals are beyond words. His skill and emotion is simply otherworldly. Miranda That Ghost Just Holy Anymore and Cassandra Gemini blew me away. I was literally knocked out of my seat. Listening to this album through Bose surround sound speakers is the epitome of euphoria! This is the album that progressive rockers, let alone artist as a whole, have dreamed of making. I feel honored to have purchased it. I should have paid far more something of this caliber. My only issue was that the epic fourteen minute title track opener wasn’t included because of the far too long – although, aptly appropriate – ambient noises. It would have been a perfect fit; thus making the album even better. ::laughs:: I added the track to the album myself on my music player, though.