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.