The Mars Volta
Frances the Mute


4.5
superb

Review

by Andrew Barr (MM8) USER (65 Reviews)
July 24th, 2007 | 44 replies


Release Date: 2005 | Tracklist

Review Summary: If you've yet to experience this album, get it now. It's one of the most breath-taking pieces of music ever produced and certainly one of the best albums in the past decade.

The Mars Volta are a difficult band to describe. Several words initially come to mind; originality, dexterity, distinctiveness, but it seems nearly impossible to sum up their musical brilliance with any combination of mere words. Even words like “unique” and “innovative” that were coined specifically to describe abnormalities seem too generic to portray their peculiar approach to music.

The Mars Volta were formed from counterparts of post-hardcore outfit At The Drive-In, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. In 2001, Cedric and Omar left At The Drive-In to move onto bigger and better things. Taking with them the flamboyant spunk and vibrancy that had made ATD-I famous and fusing it with more mature song writing as well as broader musical horizons, Cedric and Omar eloquently fashioned one the most different and promising bands of the past decade. Their music can best be described as a culmination of progressive and experimental rock, post hardcore, jazz fusion and ambient with some salsa influence. Musical aspects aside, the band is also well known for their wacky lyrical concepts. Frances The Mute is The Volta’s second studio release and a flawless exemplar of the musical/lyrical aspects described above.

The late Jeremy Ward was chiefly responsible for the album’s lyrical concept. Before working as an audio artist for The Mars Volta he had worked as a repo man. One day while in the process of repossessing a car he discovered a diary in the backseat. Evidently curious, Jeremy began to read through the diary and realised many similarities between the diaries author and his own life. The most noteworthy similarity being that both had been adopted. The diary conveyed the author’s struggled to find his biological parents. However, the author was not at all alone in his search. He was being pointed in the right direction by a collection of people. All named tracks on the album are named after said helpers.

Clearly the lyrical subject matter is a topic very close to heart for The Volta, so it is only fitting that the vocals and music have a passionate and sensitive aura to them, even while being extraordinarily flamboyant. The album opening track Cygnus…. Vismund Cygnus is an excellent exemplary note of the disc’s smooth combination of sombre, patient music and frantic, frenzied waling. The song starts slowly with some medieval sounding guitar work, then about forty-five seconds in the song explodes into a hyperactive carnival of riffage. Amazingly enough this massive transition is pulled of exceptionally well and seems completely natural. Still early in the song we’re also given a taste of what Omar can do with a guitar. He belts out a short, but impressive solo packed with explosive bends that flawlessly coincided with songs unpredictable atmosphere. Aside from writing unique riffs Omar also has a definitive tone. The early goings of Cassandra Geminni shows this off well. Sharing the focus with some melodic synthesizers, the guitar trots along with some neat-o FX.

The guitar wasn’t the only instrument to shine bright; all instruments brought forth an impressive showing. The bass work was exceedingly well done and at times reminiscent of Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers (who did appear on the album, but only to play trumpet). The highlight of the bass work is definitely the faster parts of Cygnus…. Vismund Cygnus as the bass coincided steadily with guitar’s frantic pace. The piano and brass arrangements were also impressive, while not as much of a standout feature. The piano was used magnificently as a climax in L’Via L’Viaquez, which is one of France The Mute’s slower tracks. The brass arrangements in them album were particularly scarce, but miraculous when they did appear. Unfortunately, the brass was only heavily utilized in one of the album’s five tracks Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore. This was one of the more one-dimensional tracks on Frances in the sense that the pace never really went anywhere until the songs second part; thirteen minutes in. However, regardless of the fact that the track may have been lacklustre at times the brass was a cool addition.

Cedric’s vocals were definitely the highlight of the album, for me anyways. Whether he was waling out high pitched notes at the top of his lungs, or simply slipping out delicate whispers he maintained a consistent passionate ambiance. Case in point, The Widow. At the beginning of the song Cedric’s vocals are calm with a soft rasp at times, then towards the climax of the song there are brief stints where he belts tremendously powerful notes, all perfectly in key.

As if the awesome lyrical concept, astounding musical work and awe-inspiring vocals weren’t enough Frances The Mute also flaunts excellent song writing. With only one exception this album is consistently entertaining as transitions of genres were placed just right to keep the listeners focus. However, as I just mentioned there is one exception, which I mentioned earlier. The first thirteen minutes of Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore basically go nowhere. That portion of the song is still wonderful, but after about five minutes it starts to get tedious. Had it not been for that this album would be completely unstoppable, but unfortunately it does slightly hinder Frances The Mute’s overall quality.

In summary, this album has a meaningful lyrical concept, brilliant instrumental work and song composure as well as top notch vocals and plethora of genres combined into a wonderful hybrid of sound. It’s certainly not for everyone and is rather experimental, but I’d recommend it to anyone who’s even vaguely interested. There’s not much else out there even remotely like it.

4.5/5



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user ratings (3018)
Chart.
4.1
excellent
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
metallicaman8
July 24th 2007


4677 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I had a really hard time writing this review, hope it turned out half-way decent.

Hatshepsut
July 24th 2007


1997 Comments


Guess i should finish listening to this.

Confessed2005
July 24th 2007


3314 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I have this lying around somewhere, I shall dig it out and give it another listen. Nice review.

Mikesn
Emeritus
July 24th 2007


3709 Comments


I have yet to experience this album. Good job.

Digging: Grimes - Visions

Doppelganger
July 24th 2007


3124 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Well done. I think I'd rip my hair out trying to review this.

rattlehead42147
July 24th 2007


1345 Comments


is this as good as DITC?

metallicaman8
July 24th 2007


4677 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Donno, haven't heard it. This is the only Volta album I'm familiar with.

Thanks for the kind words everyone.

Doppelganger
July 24th 2007


3124 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This one is better than DITC, even though I love both.

astrel
July 24th 2007


2614 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

If you haven't heard De-Loused you probably should. It is (I think) just as good as this album.

Digging: Jessie Ware - Tough Love

Geedrummer
July 24th 2007


607 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

i love this album and good review exept how can the ambience on Miranada.... go on for 13 minutes when the whole track is 13:09 long.

metallicaman8
July 24th 2007


4677 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Miranda is split into four parts on my copy of the CD. The first part is 13:09 and there's 3 following parts. It appears it's the same for other people as well (see tracklisting)

IsItLuck?
Emeritus
July 24th 2007


4927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this topic of discussion comes up with every TMV review. De-Loused is the king of them all.

Doppelganger
July 24th 2007


3124 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

MM8, the tracklisting that appears is wrong. Miranda is that 13 minute track, and the rest of it is Cassandra Gemini, I think.

TheHamburgerman
July 24th 2007


1297 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Why don't I like this album?

metallicaman8
July 24th 2007


4677 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I know, some versions of the cd have Miranda as a thirteen minute track and Cassandra split into 7 parts and others have each song as 4 parts. My copy has each song at four parts, so i went with that.

EDIT: It's not for everyone, this style of music may just not be your taste.This Message Edited On 07.24.07

IsItLuck?
Emeritus
July 24th 2007


4927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

loook at your pie chart and it will explain a lot on why you don't like this album.

Geedrummer
July 24th 2007


607 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

miranda is one track and cassandra is split into 7 tracks but actually only has 5 movements.

i won a free track off itunes with my diet coke bottle and downloaded a MV track called the bible and the breathalyser and its just cedrick (i think) talking over ambience . what a wasteThis Message Edited On 07.24.07This Message Edited On 07.24.07

astrel
July 24th 2007


2614 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Hey don't be so harsh, judging by his chart, he should at least like 1/10 of the album.

metallicaman8
July 24th 2007


4677 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

My copy of the cd has the tracks listed EXACTLY as follows:

Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore

A. Vade Mecum
B. Pour Another Icepick
C. Pisacis (Phra-Men-Ma)
D. Con Safo

Cassandra Geminni

A. Tarantism
B. Plant A Nail In The Navel Stream
C. Famineplulse
D. Multiple Spouse Wounds
E. Sarcophagi

Brain Dead
July 24th 2007


1150 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I used to play "go review that album game" on rateyourmusic, I got assigned this album, and I just stopped playing. It's fucking impossible to review, but you made a fine attempt sir.



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