The Mars Volta
Frances the Mute


5.0
classic

Review

by Justin Swope USER (86 Reviews)
July 18th, 2013 | 51 replies


Release Date: 2005 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Frances the Mute stands tall as a monolithic opus on a pedestal of puzzling and captivating noise.

The most important thing that people should know about art is that it doesn't always make sense. If you've ever seen a David Lynch film, you probably know what I mean. As humans, we apply rationale in order to systematically perceive what we either see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. Sometimes a subconscious fascination stems from the initial bemusement or the mental frustration that a piece of artwork did not unfold logically. In that regard, Frances the Mute is a monstrosity as well as a befuddling masterwork. Due to its clusters of crazed instrumentation and sprawling segments of auditory turmoil, The Mars Volta's second album has remained a polarizing album. However, I'm not here to act pretentious and assert that those who dislike this album simply don't understand it; I'm just here to explain why I love it so much.

First of all, the album runs the gamut from progressive rock to other styles like psychedelic and ambient music. Although it's easy to throw these labels onto Frances the Mute, the album prides itself on a singular listening experience that is often very demanding and certainly enduring. It's also appropriate to tag the music as controlled chaos because in the midst of all the commotion that The Mars Volta incite, there is precision and depth. The buildups and the crescendos always light the way, even if their directions are onerous and puzzling. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's compulsive guitar shredding rarely sounds premeditated, but since the band plays close to the chest, the instrumental surges act as surprises that the band drops along the way. Whether these movements are rehearsed or spontaneous is never clear, but beneath the countless layers of electronics, guitars, bass, trumpets, and drums is a mysterious sense of purpose. Only the band seems to know where the sounds are going.

Despite the sonic frenzy that enriches the group's impetus throughout this 77 minute colossus, the attention to rhythm and groove rewards the patient listeners who bypass the album's monolithic ambient passages and interludes. The opener "Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus" begins with a quiet but prickly riff that bookends the album before succumbing to a maelstrom of crowded sounds. Between the song's blood-pumping progressions, however, the band occasionally pulls its punches without sacrificing any impulse. The track ends with a disorderly torrent of electronic echoes that keep the flow highly kinetic and disorienting. With only 5 bona fide tracks, The Mars Volta pack as many overwhelming noises and textures as physically possible into pieces that seethe with paranoia, anxiety, and restlessness. Hearing the salvo of indecipherable sounds from track to track, it's easy to mistake vitality for insanity. After all, even Cedric Bixler-Zavala's vocals sound maniacal when he utilizes the music's rapid shifts to erect his own high-pitched cries, like on the intense "L'Via L'Viaquez".


Furthermore, The Mars Volta's ambition only underscores the massive scale of Frances the Mute. This is easily the band at their most self-indulgent and uncompromising, producing unfathomable heaps of complex conceptions. Tracks like the 32-minute "Cassandra Gemini" all establish their own territory while exploring numerous dynamics and moods at once. The band even exhibits their appreciation for jazz and Latino styles. "L'Via L'Viaquez" undergoes its own path of shapeshifting, vacillating between towering progressive rock segments sung in Spanish and segues that boast their Hispanic influence. Small components like the hurried piano continuously nudge the song off the rails, and The Mars Volta clearly demonstrate that together they work better on rough terrain.

This album is undoubtedly a formidable opus. Each segment seems to inspire a divergent way of listening and thinking. The nightmarish soundscape that introduces "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" liquefies into a momentary stream of consciousness where Cedric's vocals sit atop a spectral assortment of guitars and strings. Despite all the pandemonium, the band seems devoted to telling a story, even though that story is nearly impossible to deconstruct. Then again, it is not meant to be a coherent concept; The Mars Volta thrive on the abstract qualities of both the lyrics and the music itself. For instance, the pains of addiction pervade "The Widow", as themes of desperation thrust themselves upward. Overall, the album's tenacious execution is draining yet utterly riveting.

Frances the Mute seems to be an album you either love or hate, and while I can understand why some people might find this album unpalatable and ostentatious, I perceive the album to be a mind-blowing display of ambition. From the cacophony of innumerable guitars and horns to the spewing of arcane electronic noises, this album takes form within a cascade of obscurity. Bulky and spacious, the band's follow-up to De-Loused In the Comatorium takes their interpretations of progressive music further and further into unmapped regions. The task of wrapping one's head around this album is the perpetual draw that it holds. Even I don't fully understand this album, and to a certain extent, I hope I never do.

Favorite Tracks:
Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore
L'Via L'Viaquez



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user ratings (3034)
Chart.
4.1
excellent
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Gwyn.
July 18th 2013


15325 Comments


Review rules as it's always the case for you

I haven't heard this album in quite sometime, this review makes me want to do it again so I guess that's a plus so props

and yea pos

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Voivod
Staff Reviewer
July 18th 2013


6344 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Fantastic album and my first acquaintance with the band.

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YoYoMancuso
July 18th 2013


11224 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

nice review

DirEnRefused
July 18th 2013


2244 Comments


Album is fantastic. Bedlam and Deloused are decent, but this is the only point where I felt they
actually realised their potential. Definitely a one time deal though, they could have never made
anything close before or since.

XingKing
July 18th 2013


11079 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The only thing wrong this record is all of the filler bullshit they have in the songs. I don't need 5 minutes of noises and something clanking before the song. Other than that, damn near perfection

Cipieron
July 18th 2013


3508 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

^ yep, that's the only problem i have with the album too. i 'get it', but if they'd cut that down some this would most likely be a 5

FourthReich
July 18th 2013


18140 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

agreed hard xing

jtswope
July 18th 2013


2497 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I never had a problem with the "filler". I always saw it as an attempt to hypnotize you before the music just explodes.

StallionMang
July 18th 2013


6153 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Without the filler noises in between, I think this album would be way too crazy to take in completely. Sometimes a short break in between songs is all there needs to be.

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XingKing
July 18th 2013


11079 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The problem is that the filler is NOT short nor is it hypnotic. I could handle maybe a minute of it, but 5 minutes? Come on.. And there is no way this would be too much. They have loads of slower parts that let you rest

StallionMang
July 18th 2013


6153 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, I totally understand your point, but I happen to like it. I also think it's a cool way for TMV to get in touch with their experimental side, and explore around a bit with things like ambient textures and stuff, sounds they'd perfect on their later albums.

XingKing
July 18th 2013


11079 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'd definitely appreciate it in a live setting. I saw RX Bandits the other week and they'd go into these little ambient jam sessions and you could tell everyone was so happy to have them because we all would have died otherwise

jtswope
July 18th 2013


2497 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I really like the ambient parts too. The part at the end of cygnus is so cool.

StallionMang
July 18th 2013


6153 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, that stuff works great with their live show, especially as intense as TMV usually is live. I couldn't imagine seeing them play a full show of, like, Bedlam-type stuff, where it's all intensity and nothing in between.

tommygun
July 18th 2013


25425 Comments


fuck this long winded piece of shit album

jk i love it but i mean seriously what was omar smoking

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
July 18th 2013


16150 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

nice review

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tommygun
July 18th 2013


25425 Comments


sweet rev btw justin, love your work as always

pos

jtswope
July 18th 2013


2497 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Much appreciated Tom

tommygun
July 18th 2013


25425 Comments


l'via has such a deep groove

Chortles
July 18th 2013


18102 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

great review, can't stand this album though

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