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Frances the Mute

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  • Frances the Mute is The Mars Volta’s second full length release. Deloused in the Comatorium was a promising debut after an equally good EP. It was heralded by critics and fans alike. Frances the Mute continues along the path The Mars Volta took in Deloused but it also finds the band adding some new elemnents to their sound. Some of these additions work while others just serve to dilute the songs.

    Cedric Bixler is the biggest draw for me. The instrumental work is decent but then band is nothing without Cedric’s excellent voice and lyrics. Here, as in Deloused, Cedric’s voice is strong on every track. Frances also finds Bixler experimenting with voice manipulation. Although, not a big part of the album, what’s there does serve as a detriment to the album. Cedric has a great voice but he should leave the manipulation to singers more adapt in that area like Mr.Doctor(Devil Doll) and Mike Patton(Fantomas, Mr.Bungle). When Cedric does it, it just sounds odd, unnatural and out of place.

    As in Deloused and Tremulant, the songs are lengthy. The shortest clocks in at 5 minutes, 3 clock in at 12-13 minutes and yet another clocks in at over 30 minutes. Now, length is never a problem for me. Some of the greatest songs of the modern era like Devil Doll’s Dies Irae or The girl who was…death clock in at above an hour. Here, however, the songs feel overly lengthy. There are parts in every song that just don’t add anything to the music.

    There’s boring ambient noise in each of the tracks that serves to dilute the overall sound. It’s almost as if the boys at The Mars Volta, known ecentrics, added it to make it seem more ‘experimental’. Well, I enjoy experimental music as much as the next guy but only when it works. It doesn’t work here. Even the widow feels to long with only 3 minutes of passable music and two minutes of needless noise. I can enjoy a 13 minute song as much as the next guy but here in Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus we have an 8 minute song masquerading as a 13 minute one. It’s just not needed and makes the overall album less pleasing. If there was more cohesion to this album, it could have easily been a 5 star release. There are some 5 star moments in here but also some 1 or 2 star moments that serve to bring down the overall quality of each song.

    It is easy to tell The Mars Volta’s influences on this album as well. Deloused was more of an original release than this. Parts of Via l’Viaquez sound like a Santana song with a different vocalist. Yet, another part of that song made me recall parts of the Kill Bill soundtrack. Other influences like Robert Plant and Jimmy Page are clearly heard in the album. It’s nice when artists are influenced by others but here it seems that they filch a thing too many from others instead of shaping their own sound.

    Frances the Mute is a good album despite it’s flaws. Some better editing on the part of the band along with removal of about 10-15 minutes on needless noise could have made this a really strong album. The album has been receiving the “It’s weird and we don’t understand it so it must be brilliant treatment”. I’m all for experimental sounds but some of it here just doesn’t work. If you are looking some good and original experimental music check out better releases like Choirs of the Eye by Kayo Dot. However, if you want a good albeit a bit muddled rock release with a good vocalist then you’ll like this. If you liked Deloused then you’ll probably like this as well. Just be wary that it introduces some detrimental aspects and suffers from lack of cohesion. With some better editing this could have been one of the best releases in years. As it stands, it’s a good release that doesn’t quite reach greatness due to some unneeded boring parts.

    Posted on January 10, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • First off, I’d like to make the statement that, despite what anyone says, this album is NOT for everyone. Also, nothing that I or anyone else says here will affect your feeling about this album; it’s a strictly love/hate relationship, as with all ‘different’ music… there is no partiality. That being said, it’s understandable to see where some people who dislike this album are coming from. If you aren’t used to TMV, this is not your album. Personally, I had to work up to TMV, it wasn’t something I enjoyed immediately, but once you can get your ears around the ideas and techniques of TMV, it’s true genius, pure pleasure to listen to. Listening to one song on this album is an injustice; it really cries out to be listened to in it’s entirety, and this is how it’s meant ot be listened to, not in bits and pieces. In comparison to De-Loused, Frances does not have quite as much catchiness or as many musically difficult lines, but, I feel that the music, viewed as a whole, shows much more thought and depth; instruments seem to almost weave in and out of eachother in some places, creating an almost surreal and mind-numbing effect. The most impressive aspect of this CD, just as in De-Loused, in my opinion, is the flow- from one track to the next, the flow is smooth, lines fade in and out, and guitar effects provide subtle, odd, and sometimes even frightening undertones, while the bass and drum lines are thouroughly supportive of the rest of the band, while maintaining some degree of complexity, especially rhythmically. I feel that De-Loused may have done a better job mending different tracks together than Frances, but Frances is nonetheless brilliant in it’s approach to this style.

    As I said before, you will either love or hate this album, depending on what you have listened to in the past, your influences, and your tastes- even the best review can’t change that. Love it or hate it, this is TMV, and if you can truly listen to this album thoroughly once, you may find it growing on you more and more.

    Posted on January 10, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • ‘Frances The Mute’ immediately lays all doubts to rest, that yes, it’s possible that the Mars Volta could exceed the grandiosity and pretentiousness of ‘Deloused in the Comatorium’. Running at over 80 minutes, there’s no denying the sheer ambition of music’s most hypersonic duos, Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez. This CD builds upon the template of their debut, and takes it a step further; just more of everything, more blistering guitar solos, more musical scope/experimentation, and generally more monumental. Once again, Cedric’s wails and the fierce Page-Karoli-Santana guitar solos of Omar Rodriguez, dominate the album. Certainly Jon Theodore’s frenetic Mitch Mitchell-esque drumming style should not be overlooked as well. The ‘prog-rock meets classic rock’ comparisons have been beaten into the ground, but in fact that would be accurate, going from moody Pink Floyd/Hawkwind sections to self-aggrandizing solos that would make Jimmy Page and Carlos Santana proud. Thrown into the mix are some avant-garde twists, ‘Via l’Viaquez’ has it’s flamenco moments, the 30 minute magnum opus ‘Cassandra Geminni’ is sprinkled with Ornette Coleman sax-flurrys. It almost seems like the Mars Volta has been blessed with musical speaking-in-tongues, capturing the spirit of a different age unleashed as a musical mosaic, and the most impressive thing is that it works. ‘Frances The Mute’ is an astonishing album, breathtaking musicanship, progressive in it’s spirit, and majestic in it’s ambition. Definitley one of the strongest CD’s of 2005.

    Posted on January 10, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • The Mars Volta hit the jackpot with their debut — a thrashing, hypnotic, hallucinatory sprawl of prog-rock. People loved it, and many said it was genius. Which, of course, makes the expectations for Album No. 2 even higher — how can you capture lightning in a bottle more than once?

    “Frances the Mute” does a pretty good job of doing just that. Without sacrificing the creepy overtones and wild sound, the Mars Volta opts for a new, stranger sound that is a bit less rock and a bit more prog. “L’Via L’Viaquez” has a sizzling riff that is louder than anything else on the album, while “Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus” sounds like a metal band going slowly insane.

    Not that they’ve lost their metal/funk/punk/Latin/experimental edge — some parts of it are just more prominent. Mostly it’s the prog and funk… and just try to imagine what that sounds like. Songs like the half-hour “Cassandra Gemini” happily flit from one style to another, with a sense of true rock grandeur, while songs like “Miranda that Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore” has an ambient flavor.

    Perhaps the one problem is that instead of one sprawling concept album, like their first, this is apparently multiple “acts” put together. A few songs simply putter out, like lackluster “The Widow.” But the explosive energy of almost every other song is enough to make up for “The Widow’s” flaws.

    In a nutshell, you don’t know what to expect from the Mars Volta in any given song. They can draw you in with a simple riff or quiet melody, before launching into a screaming, frenetic jumble of Latin-prog-psychedelica-acid-jazz. It’s dizzying; the instrumentation is as wild and abstract as their dark, bizarre songwriting. Their lyrics are a bit reminiscent of Burroughs, and deliver a visceral punch even if they don’t make sense.

    One thing that has changed is the song length; if the Mars Volta keeps this up, their future albums will have to be double or triple discs. Many songs are over ten minutes, and one is over half an hour. A few songs could definitely have used some trimming, and it has a somewhat looser feel than their first album. But most of the songs manage to do justice to their length — lots of explosive riffs and sharp drumming, paired with some weird keyboard noises and wailing vocals.

    “De-loused in the Comatorium” was an outstanding space-prog-Latin-jazz-rock album, and “Frances the Mute” does a good job of following up on it. It lacks the tightness of the Mars Volta’s first album, but is a good collection in its own right.

    Posted on January 10, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • With their latest release, the Mars Volta have solidified their position as one of the most musically audacious bands in the mainstream today. Continuing in the epic progressive nature of their previous release, “Deloused in the Comatorium”, “Frances the Mute” sees the band pushing the boundaries even further, making for a somewhat jarring but undoubtedly engaging listen.

    The album begins with “Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus”, a sprawling 13-minute epic. The song sort of builds up in reverse, firing out of the gate with wild jazzy time changes, eventually melting into spacious guitar melodies, and finally concluding with an odd electronic bit.

    From there, the album mainly continues in the multi-part epic fashion, with the exception of the more radio-friendly ballad “The Widow”. Much like “Televators”, from “Deloused…”, this song serves as a brief respite from the musical madness. However, it ends with a long, ambient outro that goes on for a bit too long, and drags the song out a bit more than it really needs to be.

    “L’Via L’Viaquez” is perhaps the highlight of the album, boasting a strong Latin influence. The song is filled with scintillating salsa-esque rhythms, adding a catchiness to the wild, technical jazz structures, and features lyrics both in English and Spanish. At 12 minutes in length, the song goes by surprisingly fast.

    The remaining two epics, “Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore” and “Cassandra Gemini”, delve even deeper into unpredictable weirdness. Each is spread over several tracks, totaling at around 27 and 20 minutes respectively.

    The jazz influence in these songs is taken to even greater extremes, featuring trumpet, flutes, and saxophone (Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea even contributes some nice trumpet work). Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s jagged guitar rhythms and Jon Theodore’s octopus-like drumming are showcased here like never before, and the high-pitched cathartic wails of frontman Cedric Bixler Zavala anchor it all very nicely.

    Combining jazz and rock stylings hasn’t been commercially viable since the 70’s, but these guys put an extremely fresh and exciting spin on it, and manage to sound very natural and cutting-edge in the process. The music seems rather chaotic at first, but for the most part, everything flows together very well.

    I realize this previous description was a bit vague, but the reason is that there is so much going on in these two songs, it is extremely difficult to put it into words. It’s really something you just have to hear for yourself.

    Epic, unpredictable, and quite intense, the Mars Volta are most certainly not for the faint of heart. However, those who appreciate progressive rock, or any daring and challenging style of musical art will find great worth in this, one of the best and most exciting releases of the year.

    Posted on January 10, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now