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.