on 15 August 2005
I really loved The Mars Volta's previous album, De-loused in the Comatorium and I was rather uncertain when I first heard this. It certainly wasn't as easy to get into than their first one but after you've had the patience to listen to it a few times it all starts to make sense.
On this album they've incorporated a lot more instruments and styles to the music and at the same time gone even more crazy in how they use them. Generally this works really well and the use of Spainish lyrics (at least I think it's Spainish) sounds really good, and it's not like their lyrics made any sense anyway... The track listing is as crazy as the music and you get the sense that they added in breaks between tracks on the CD just as a courtesy.
My main complaint would be that sometimes they go a bit too far and venture into the realm of randomness. Four minutes of the same piece of birdsong played over and over again can become tedious very quickly so I just skip past it.
All in all it's a really great album and something completely different. It's worth getting just for the last track alone. It's not for everyone though, I could understand how some people could hate this. If you haven't listened to the Mars Volta before I would recomend their first album over this as it's a lot easier to get into.
on 10 April 2005
THE MARS VOLTA - FRANCES THE MUTE
'Frances the Mute' is The Mars Volta's next step into their bizarre land of hardcore techno progressive rock. Their previous efforts have both been mind blowing, using out of the blue tempo changes, huge ranges of instruments and most importantly the ever ingenious pairing of minds that is Cedric Bixler Zavala and Omar A Rodriguez Lopez. Like 'De-loused in the Comatorium', 'Frances' is effectively a long heroine fuelled story on the other side of consciousness, but this time round it's more of an experience when listened to from to start to finish. It only actually consists of five songs, despite my CD player telling me twelve and the track listing telling me something like fifteen. Further confusion is caused by the song 'Frances the Mute''s lyrics appearing inside the CD case, despite there being no such song on the album.
The lyrics are based on a anonymous diary stumbled upon, telling of an abandoned child searching for his parents, but apart from little hints like "I won't forget who I'm looking for" you would never guess so. Since their early days in their former band 'At the Drive-in' Bixler Zavala and Rodriguez Lopez have taunted with words so deep and cryptic that I doubt even they know what they're talking about. This becomes most evident on 'L'Via L'Viaquez' where the verses are sung in what I presume is Spanish; perhaps Latin; perhaps neither. Nonsensical as the words are, make no mistake, they still have a profound effect when sung as emotionally as Bixler Zavala. He pours his heart and soul into the bounding vocal melodies; if this tells the story of a tragedy then it is still unwaveringly upbeat and uplifting, thanks in no small part to the blaring riffs and intricate solos from guitarist Rodriguez Lopez. The album's only single, 'The Widow', represents without doubt the worst material on the album; its slow acoustics still carry it through but compared to the burst of energy and life on the opening track 'Cygnus .. Vismund Cygnus' it is only filler.
After the forty or so minutes filled by the first four tracks comes 'Cassandra Geminni' the album's real winner. Basically it defines the word "progressive", lasting half an hour and the chorus only coming twice. Whoever tells you it takes time to get into is wrong; whether you're listening for the first time or the hundredth it is still compelling and imaginative. As the last song goes out with a burst of life, we're left with the opening moments of the album repeated, tinkering slowly before dying out. After a couple more listens you'll be hooked.
on 3 May 2009
I bought this album the year it came out, after having watched The Mars Volta and being completely blown away by their mesmerising and powerful live show. Many of the reviews here seem to assosciate The Mars Volta with Pink Floyd, Zeppelin etc but I find these comparisons not very useful in trying to get across a sense of The Mars Volta. In my opinion, such an enigmatic, and yet at the same time dramatic, band, do not really fully reward the listener who looks to drop the sound into musical categories. Listening to the Mars Volta's Frances The Mute, you might find their organic sound and some high pitched singing to be slightly alike a Zeppelin sound, but settle into it and, for example, listen to the weird structures of sound, the way the sounds are arranged around eachother, the way sounds and instruments emerge out of eachother, and you will begin to realise that this is a totally different experience, and that The Mars Volta are too amorphous (in the space of a song, let alone the album) to be pinned down. Might it help you to understand the album by me telling you that each time I give it a listen, I get totally different impressions from it?
This is a beautiful and powerful album,yet perhaps challenging if one doesn't have the time and stamina-of-attention-span to appreciate such a dense piece of work.
So, after this introduction about the difficulty of describing such an experimental and shifting album, I'll give some simpler impressions of the music:
Some simpler suggestions: You might note that without Rick Rubin, Mars Volta have a 'rawer' and much more organic and loose approach, it feels like they are stretching out more and have been unconstrained- allowing themselves to express their freeform compositions with characteristic energy and intensities. Take, for example, Cassandra Gemini, a song that really takes the album into another dimension, with its intense and electrifying openings folding out into all sorts of strange shapes and decompositions, with Cedrics utterly haunting, powerful and variable voicings hinting at a strange ritual?experience?altered state? while dramatic moments appear and carry stuttered sounds into new forms. I highly recommend this song (in my opinion, it really shows Omar and Cedric's talents as composer and singer respectively) and the album as an experience willing to yield a huge variety of riches to the careful and appreciative listener. I hope you enjoy it.
on 25 February 2005
A musical journey is an oft-used cliche in reviews, but in the case of The Mars Volta's Frances the Mute, it's completely appropriate. 5 tracks and 77 minutes trancsend multiple genres, from progmetal, to funk, jazz, latino and back again. The result is an astonishing album which expands and improves upon its predecessor, Deloused in the Comatorium in virtually every sense.
The elements of the first album remain; alien time signatures, effect-laden riffs, perplexing lyrics, and those (admittedly annoying) spaces between songs. Yet whilst the first album sounded like nothing else around, many of the songs were somewhat samey in sound. FTM, on the other hand is massively diverse, with trumpets violins, cellos and pianos being thrown full on into the mix. A strong latino theme encompasses much of the album, particularly on the brilliant L'Via L'Viaquez.
The opening track Cygnus picks up perfectly from where the first album left off (the poor Ambuletz aside), and the break-neck pace, and flurry of ideas tell you the bar has been raised a good few notches. Yet much of the album is slower, and more brooding giving you a chance to take breath. The Widow has considerable intensity, whilst the opening trumpet blast given by Chili Pepper guest Flea on Miranda... wouldn't have sounded out of place on the Kill Bill Vol 2 soundtrack. But it's the 33 min finale that is Cassandra Geminni that stands as the band's landmark to date. Never less than enthralling, it's like a concept album in itself.
Fellow Chili Pepper John Frusciante also returns on L'Via L'Viaquez. However, the much-improved guitar work elsewhere on the album suggest that his influence stretches well beyond a few riffs on one track.
Vocally, also Cedric Bixler Zavala is much stronger, the lyrics actually being coherent in places this time, whilst some bizarre vocal effects add a novel (if slightly silly) touch.
Overall, though, despite the influx of new ideas, the songs are structurally superior, the band knowing when a bit of restraint and subtlety are needed. It all holds together better than DITC, and is a true sum of its parts.
Whilst the oft mentioned influences of Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Led Zep et al may ring true, they ultimately mean little to many of the band's younger fans. The fact is, that at this point in time, few other bands can come close to matching this level of creativity and genious.
on 17 May 2005
The Mars Volta then. What actually are they? Frances the Mute characterises the genre hopping style that surrounds the band and the two musical enigmas at its heart- Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez. It is weird, to say the least, downright odd, if we are going to be honest, and it transcends pretty much every genre you could ever attempt to stick onto it. Most certianly what it is not is deloused pt II, a shame in some ways, but in others a relief. To compare the Mars Volta with my other favourite band, Queens of the Stone Age, progression is the key. Each time the Queens release an album, there is disappointment that it is not like their last one, something which should never ever have even been expected.
So the actual album. Well it is weird, but amazingly interesting. The flashes of punk which filled the 1st long player are still there, but there is overall a much greater sense of experimentation. The first track explodes with a swirling guitar that ATD-I would've been proud of, as fugazi style drum riffs punctuate the stop start dynamics. This is almost mars volta by numbers, until Rodriguez (who produced much of the album) slurs the riff into dreamy ambience. When the Mars Volta really shine is when they are at their weirdest, their most unexpected. L'Via Viaquez is perhaps the best track on the album, as a wailing guitar is set over precise salsa tempo drums and bass. The musicianship is breathtaking, the dynamics awe inspiring and the timing exquisite to say the least. My personal favourite track is the breathtakingly haunting Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore, flea's trumpet melding beautifully with the pained vocals of Bixler. The sprawl that is Cassandra Gemini, is as possibly expected of a sprawl, characterised by brilliant sections, and downright boring ones, yet thankfully the brilliance outweighs the monotony by a huge margin... Yet to the Mars Volta, I salute you, for making something totally different... Even when it doesn't totally succeed, there is nothing on earth quite like a Mars Volta album....Till Somerset House, Cedric and Omar...
4/5 sheerly for the reason that it won't appeal to everyone..this along with Lullabies To Paralyze by Queens of the Stone Age is my album of the year. A certain 5/5 for me, alone.
Frances The Mute, the second studio album by The Mars Volta is one of the most interesting and creative albums ever released.
No other album has ever had such an effect on me, at first I hated this album, resented the large music free sections, impenetrable lyrics and Latin music influence which had largely been absent on the band's debut.
Eventually I grew to enjoy about half of about half tracks on the album, hating the beginning or end of some songs, or enjoying the choruses of songs but not caring for what just seemed like jams that weren't going anywhere.
Then one day, I just 'got it' and ever listen since has been an absolute joy, one of the most impressive growers in musical history. Every listen reveals more saxophone parts, more keyboard sections, a new bass slide or guitar vibrato or a 3rd guitar part altogether.
The lyrics too, which frustrate the listener so much on first listen, intrigue for years afterward due to Cedric's unique style which at times seems like a stream of consciousness, at times seems like a word replacement puzzle and at times seem to contradict information given in press releases.
The story which accompanied the album was about the search for the character's biological parents, which is portrayed in lyrics like 'All the brittle tombs, Five hundred little q's I'm splitting hairs to Match the faces,' or 'Who do you trust Will they feed us the womb Chrome the fetal mirage,' ' and 'Umbilical syllables Left to decode, There was no cradle I can taste it, Come on now, All night I'll hunt for you, Let me show you what I mean.'
If these are examples of the most obvious lyrics you can imagine how difficult it is to interpret lyrics like 'She was a mink hand-job in Sarcophagus heels.'
Its easy to get caught up on the lyrics and forget about the quality of the album, an album which begins and ends with an acoustic guitar piece called 'Sarcophagi,' that sounds like its coming out of a transistor radio in the distance, and album that opens with a 13 minute song and contains a 30 minutes song called Cassandra Gemini, which is supposed to be split into five movements but is instead slit randomly across eight tracks, some of which are incorrectly labeled as being a part of the previous 13 minute track, 'Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore,' which is contained entirely on track four.
The album is best listened to as a whole, from beginning to end as each song relates to another lyrically or musically at some point or another, and the majority of tracks have atmospheric intros or outros to establish a mood or help tell the story that you are more tempted to skip if you just wish to listen to one track.
I am a big fan of concept albums, but never before have I heard an album that had more thought and effort put into it, nor an album with more secret alcoves and hidden meanings, where sections of music represent sections of the story or means of story telling.
On paper, Frances The Mute is one of the most interesting albums I've ever heard of, but I'm glad to report that on CD its also one of the best albums I've ever listened to, and it entertains me just as much as it impresses me.
on 28 September 2012
I really like 'Deloused in the Comantorium', so why didnt I like there critically acclaimed follow up? Well, I dug out my old copy of Deloused the other day, after listening to Sparta, At the Drive in, and I STILL love Mars's first album! So I decided to download the second one, after hearing its one of their best. What a dissapointment, the first track starts off the album really weakly, and meanders into some half baked psychadelic tune out for about 5 minutes. Its nothing new, and the tunes are really unmemorable. The only saving grace is Omars guitar playing which has come on leaps and bounds, so musically, they are tighter than ever, but where are the tunes? Theres just to much noodling and ego space tripping on here..but if it had something dark or even an element of sound to it, it might have been better. Even on Deloused I liked the atmospheric moments, but there seemed to be some depth and dynamic to it, Frances just doesnt live up to the hype to be honest. I also hate trumpets and brass in rock music! Leave it to Ska and Big Band! I have yet to venture further into there catalogue, but this step has put me off slighty. Someone reassure me they arent all like this after deloused?
on 11 December 2006
At first listen, it just sounds like a complete mess and is all over the place, though bit by bit it begins to make more sense..
On the 1st listen: Widow single (edit) makes sense
2-5 listens Cygnus apart from the last 2 mins makes sense
6-10 listens Miranda (now I realise the true genius of it)
11-15 listens L'Via L'viaquez (brilliant)
15-20 listens getting there with Cassandra Gemini but its still pretty tough.
The bits such as the last 3 minutes of the widow and 2 mins of Cygnus along with various other parts of the album can only really be described as 'awkward' listening. When the later minutes of Widow were playing my Mum actually thought the CD was jamming! To be fair it does sound that way. I do wonder what Omar and Cedric think of these parts, as they must have a reason why they are included. Obviously no one could understand their music more than them so they must see something in these parts which make them special enough to have included them on the album. In saying that, what I thought were 4 awkward minutes in the beginning of Miranda, I now realise that it really does act as a superb build up till the trumpets slowly come in. The uses of the trumpets are what makes Miranda such a cold and chilling track and adds to the atmosphere of the album as a whole.
Like any good album you really can't judge it until you've listened to it a lot. I really didn't like this album for starter especially as it is meant to be listened to in one sitting. At 76 minutes long, I think the sheer length of it played mind tricks on me and instead of properly listening to the music, I was thinking of how long it was. As you keep listening to it, time gradually becomes insignificant and when that stage is reached you can truly appreciate the album because it will start to make sense, so you're focusing less on the time and more on the music.
This album is to deloused as deloused is to relationship of command (At the Drive-in) because from relationship to de-loused, they really did take their music to another level and now they've managed one step further. Whether they make the next step with their next album remains to be seen, where that step is I don't think they even know! But one thing is for sure they have the talent to be timeless.
One thing I really like about this album is the concept that it is never ending, it can just loop forever because the end of the last track Cassandra, turns into the intro for Cygnus.
This album also shows how singer Cedric really has moved away from ATDI even further because there are virtually no 'shouty' bits at all. In fact Frances shows what an amazing singer he really is. He hits notes which most people could only dream of reaching, for example the "oh yeah" s during Cygnus or the "bring me to my knees towards the beginning of Cassandra. Overall his pure and unique vocals add a great deal to the album.
However the key to this album which holds it together is not Cedric's unique vocals, Omar's exquisite guitar playing or John's mental drumming but it's the infectious baselines which set the tone for the whole album. While Omar, Cedric, John along with the other contributors go off into their own little worlds in the album, the base line is the constant throughout each song and brings it all together. In particular Omar's guitar playing seems to dance round the baselines not knowing which way he's going to go next.
To explain what their album is like compared to other prog albums I'll put it in to context by using the analogy of running. First of all I'll explain how much music in general can be related to running. Anyone can run a mile, maybe at different times, but they can still run it. Just like pop music, its easy to understand. However longer runs require more training and you have to build up to it. This is like progressive music because you need to listen to it lots in order to understand it or to appreciate it to its full potential. To put this into context of this Mars Volta album is like a 3 hour long run. A 3 hour long run can take many shapes and forms. The MV album is like a mix of urban and rural landscapes. The urban bits are the straight forward road running bits, or the parts of the albums which are the easiest to understand. However they are still hilly sections in this part to keep it challenging. Then there is the rural parts which are the parts are the rough trails which take longer because it is more technical. This represent those 'awkward' moments of the album.
To sum up Frances the mute is a never ending journey through a musical landscape. A tough 3 hour long run may sound completely unthinkable to some people, but if you do the training its nothing short of brilliance just like Frances the Mute!
on 3 March 2005
On first listening to this album, I won't deny I had my doubts about it's pedigree especially put alongside De-Loused, an album almost instantly assuming cult status similar to Mellon Collie. The atmospheres in this make the epic Cicatriz ESP seem like a radio friendly pop tune but that's the point. Traditional classifications of music fall apart when pinned on something so vibrant as this. So much so that accurately reporting the various textures, themes, melodies, riffs isn't a practical reality. Instead I must rely on some basic overviews to convey this masterpiece.
For me personally the sign of a truley great album is when I listen to it in the dark on my own. This is a situation in which the Mars Volta excell. The pure ambition driving this album means that attention to detail is paramount from the effects used on the guitars to the complex atonal guitar melodies lapping over each other like rabid wolves. This creates a peice that stands up and even improves with multiple listening.
Give this record a chance and by exactly the 4th time listening to it all the way through, it will make some semblence of sense.
on 25 June 2012
Well, with how diverse, complex and intriguing this album is, it's a little difficult to quite put into words what listening to it is like.
Of course, it's nothing but positivity regarding each song. Although, you can barely call them all 'songs' since the vast majority link together to make for a listening experience that takes you through so many twists and turns.
Guitars, fast paced, slow paced, bilingual and extraordinary lyrics; what else is there left to cover for The Mars Volta?
If you've only heard The Widow and L'Via L'Viaquez, then I'd highly recommend you take careful consideration when buying this album. You may not get what you expect with the rest. That may be in a great way or a bad way.
But if you like music that's a little 'out there', don't take another minute to buy it and find out what's in store.