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.