Review Summary: An extremely original album that really caught me off guard.
The Mars Volta is certainly one of the strangest bands I have ever crossed. A couple years ago I saw one of their music videos when I randomly flipped through MTV. I believe the video was for "The Widow". Anyways, it never took me by surprise or impressed me in the least. See, back in those days I wasn't very into the Progressive genre of music. Nor was I really a fan of abstract experimental music. Nowadays my taste in music has certainly changed. I now I have a higher tolerance for music that you usually don't hear everyday. The Mars Volta truly falls into this category. They are truly their own band.
Now, after giving you that opening monologue, I can go on and say that Francis The Mute is one fantastic album. After listening to their newest album, Bedlam In Goliath, I see a major difference in how they approached songs on this album. Bedlam sounds very experimental to me, while Francis The Mute really sounds like The Mars Volta was trying to take a more classic approach to songwriting. In some areas I'm reminded of Led Zeppelin (The Widow) due to Cedric's high pitched, ingenious vocals, and Lopez's sometimes very Jimmy Page inspired lead guitar work. I am often reminded of Pink Floyd with many of the dissonant experimentation with random noises that usually comes along before and after songs. However, be certain that The Mars Volta is truly in their own league. By mixing some of these things from these great classic bands in with their own original style of songwriting and musicianship, they have come out with an amazingly original album.
Many of the songs on this album are extremely long. The last song is actually 32 minutes long. I know that it sounds hard to take, but it's actually not. These songs are quite easy to enjoy because of the lack of repetition. The band is always doing something new and quite different from before. For example, Lopez might play a very traditional Rock lick in one part, then seconds later he might just go off into something that sounds like he might as well be playing in a Fusion Jazz band. That is one thing about this album; You really don't know what to expect from the guitar work. Lopez is truly a genius when it comes to playing his instrument. Not to mention he writes most, if not all of the songs for the band. This definitely explains the bands very original music.
I won't give all of the credit to Lopez, though. Even though he is a big part of the band, this band still wouldn't be what it is without the fantastic vocals of Cedric Bixler-Zavala; Another huge part of this band. Cedric is certainly a very talented vocalist. He often reminds me of Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, but still manages to pull off his own original sound. On many songs he truly takes the spotlight with his fantastic vocals. L'Via L'Viaquez has a very Latin inspired sound to it and it is topped off by Cedric's mesmerizing vocal being sung in Spanish. His vocals style can be only classified as fantastic. It really fits with the style of the music, and I honestly could not imagine this band being able to continue on without him.
Speaking of the Latin inspired sound of L'Via L'Viaquez, most of this album really has a huge Latin influence. Many of the lyrics are sung in Spanish, often randomly converting to English. Horns are often brought in to give even more of a traditional Latin sound. Even a piano gets a lengthy solo at the end of L'Via L'Viaquez that is very reminiscent of the traditional Spanish style of music. There are many instruments to be heard on this album. I even heard a flute on the last song! I'm still noticing new instruments every time I listen to this album. Another common thing about this band are the many instrumental breaks in the songs. There is often more time given to the instruments than there is the vocals, which really shows that this band is truly in it to make great music and not focus the spotlight on just one talented member of the band.
Overall, this is a fantastic album. It really took me by surprise, to be quite honest. This was just my second experience with The Mars Volta, but it turned out quite well. This is one of the best albums I've listened to in a long time, and it establishes The Mars Volta as one of my favorite and most respected bands.