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Frances the Mute
Format: Audio CD|Change
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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.
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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.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 March 2007
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.
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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.
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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.
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on 14 February 2013
This is the first TMV album I heard as I came across it in a library and I was familiar with the name and wanted to give it a spin to satisfy my curiosity. I have to say I was very disappointed as it started off really good with some awesome singing and lyrics before busting into one awesome guitar lick, but after those first couple of minutes the steam was just gone. I admit there were odd parts which sounded great, but then nothing else interesting or coherent would appear for a long length. Songs range in length from one to thirty minutes and are broken into sections and different parts (I think) and it all just becomes very confusing very quickly. It's ridiculously hard to understand why they have made an album like this and why they've made it confusing to listen to music. It just sounds so messy like it has not been produced or edited, other than checking the parts are played properly of course as opposed to having distortion or something like that. Just as one example, one 'song/part/'(I WISH I KNEW!) literally has three minutes of poinltess looping going duh duh duh DUH DUH DUH duh duh duh DUH DUH DUH) on the endand it's all just confusing and annoying as if they could have another song in there where they show they clearly have spent endless hours playing music and have a lot of talent to show for it. The first album is absolutely superb from start to finish, and when I hard that AFTER this one, I realised this is bascially just a very poor demo of it( it's called De-loused in the Comatorium). I later found out that a band memeber produced this and it's all an idea to get to an area where future music exists, but it's just pointless, or stupid at best. They had Rick Rubin producing the first album and didn't go back to him because he over-simplified things. That's just silly. TRUST ME: there's opinion and there's opinion with logic(not trying to be demeaning or big-headed), just get the first album, and you only have thirty seconds of looping at most on the end of I think one track and the rest is singular and structured, well made songs. Avoid this. If you liked the first, move to Amputechture, though I also thought that was way overdone and poor (it has only eight songs yet lasts 1 hour and 15 minutes). Trust me, this album just sounds like a very poor demo of the first one which is an awesome album. Buy this and you will be highly confused and disappointed.
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VINE VOICEon 31 July 2006
The track listing is wrong here. The intended list would have been five tracks, but Universal demanded 12 tracks or the album would be an EP (despite nearly being 80 minutes long). The band split up the fifth track because it was the longest. It is not evenly divided into its component parts (Tarantism etc.), and Miranda is not split up at all. You can easily tell because the last part of Miranda is a repeat of the end of Cygnus, and occurs on track 4. Also the lyrics for Cassandra clearly start on track 5.

The actual track listing is:

1. Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus

2. The Widow

3. L'Via Viaquez

4. Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore

5. Cassandra Gemini I

6. Cassandra Gemini II

7. Cassandra Gemini III

8. Cassandra Gemini IV

9. Cassandra Gemini V

10. Cassandra Gemini VI

11. Cassandra Gemini VII

12. Cassandra Gemini VIII

Amazon really should fix this error.

Also: this is by far my favourite Mars Volta so far (Amputechture isn't out yet).
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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.
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on 30 July 2016
Having heard the songs The Widow and L'Via L'Viaquez and having read some of the reviews here, I thought the album was going to boil down to those two songs and a load of unlistenable avant garde nonsense.

Luckily I bought the CD (prefer to have a physical object to really focus the attention) and I can't stop listening to it. There are so many exhilarating moments, both vocal and instrumental, throughout the 70 minutes of this album. You have to give it your full attention, sit down with it and pay attention.

It's magnificent! As a 42 year old it's been a long time since a record exhilarated me like new music used to do when I was 15 but this takes me right back. Discovered it 11 years late but who cares?
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on 18 April 2010
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.
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