The Mars Volta
Frances the Mute



by John weathered old reviewer Hanson EMERITUS
August 4th, 2006 | 341 replies

Release Date: 2005 | Tracklist

There are some albums that change lives. On a purely personal level, Frances the Mute nearly accomplishes that with me. The Mars Volta had, of course, entranced me with the highly energetic De-Loused in the Comatorium, which in retrospect sounds just as close to their At the Drive-In days as it does this album. But all of that is relatively unimportant. What is important is what makes this album so brutally brilliant.

The album, both as a whole and broken into pieces, works flawlessly. Opting out of the sudden explosiveness of their previous ventures (for the most part), The Mars Volta instead practice sweeping epicness. Songs such as Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus are broad and multi-faceted songs; from a soft acoustic intro, we find a highly intense standard verse-chorus section, which ultimately and sublimely flows into a sweeping instrumental, only to be brought to a near operatic-section as vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala shows off just how much he improved on this album. The scenario with most of the other songs is extremely similar in structure, yet executed so differently, that it’s a wonder The Mars Volta didn’t just take each of these ideas and mold entire separate songs about them. However, that is probably what makes this album what it is.

The playing field musicianship-wise was also tremendously increased on this album. The previously mentioned Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus features one of the most intricate guitar lines I’ve ever heard, and instead of sticking to a solid rhythm, the drum and bass work are equally technical and impressive. Guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is quite possibly the most promising guitarist anywhere near famous enough to make a lasting impact on up-and-coming guitarists everywhere, and his work on here is indicative of such. While occasionally sloppy, you cannot deny the absolute insane quality of his work (which is only heightened when you realize he wrote most of...well, everything on the album). Jon Theodore is, in addition, one of the most talented musicians I’ve heard in quite a while, with his arguable tendency to overplay overshadowed by the fact that Goddamn, that boy can play.

Of course, Juan Alderete has been a solid bassist for years upon years, but he certainly made his mark here as well. Contributing solid basslines throughout the entirety of the album, its undoubtedly L’via L’Viaquez where he makes his strongest mark, giving a rather simplistic, yet altogether infectious piece of work that not only fits the song perfectly, but also gives an already entirely too danceable song even more danceability. Ikey Owens also contributes his part to the album, but its often (and unfortunately) overshadowed by the extreme technicality of the rest of the members. Opting out of trying to be some kind of keyboard virtuoso, Ikey has adopted the philosophy of “build, don’t break.” Every song has some sort of sweeping piano, organ, or synth that only builds the mood of any said song.

And the moods of any said song are often created and finished by Cedric, singer for TMV. Previously, he was an emotionally driven vocalist; he made you feel what he was trying to impart, but in all honesty, it was never that smooth of an intake. On Frances, however, Cedric has gone nearly balls to the walls, delivering countless memorable performances, such as the cry of “I count the days to find what was left behind...”, or the soft crooning of “And I’ll never...never sleep alone”, perhaps even the sudden crash of “Bring me to my knees!”. He goes through a range of vocal “effects” on this album, some self inflicted (hence the “‘s) and some digitally done. Regardless, he has attained the potential his voice once showed, but never followed through on, and thats a beautiful thing.

The albums concept, while surprisingly coherent and quite interesting, takes backseat to the fact that the album just flows so gosh-darn well, and for only having 5 true separate tracks, the variety on this album far surpasses that of Deloused’s. You have a salsa groove session on L’via L’viaquez, a 30 minute jazz-infused prog opus in Cassandra Gemini, replete with flute and sax solos. You have a short, yet hard hitting power ballad. An intense opening track that strangely concludes with the voices of children, and their mother yelling at them to come inside. Hell, you even have a song that doesnt get into full swing for five minutes. And that’s saying something, considering Cedric and Omar’s (the main songwriting duo for the album) past tendencies.

The album is, in a word to my psyche, astounding. It’s not for everyone, and its really not for anyone in particular; a fan of progressive music may hate this just as much as some punk kid with a NOFX shirt, or an electronica nut who debates on which Boards of Canada album really is the best. But, then again, the same holds true for the opposite. I’ve seen this album turn that same stereotypical punk kid, that same stereotypical electronica kid, and the tr00 kvlt fans of “prog” that like or love this album far outweigh those who detest it. Sure, ambience abounds. Then again, any media player will allow you to skip right past all that if you wish, and god bless if you do. Me? I’ll listen to the album all the way through, and enjoy every second of crickets chirping.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
south_of_heaven 11
August 4th 2006


Glad to see you reviewing again.
Good job. Surprisingly, I checked out their myspace awhile back. They're not as bad as I had thought, but still nothing I would like...their quite creative though...

August 4th 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

Nice work.

August 4th 2006


Album Rating: 5.0

Happy half-century

Ive heard a few songs by the Mars Volta and really liked them. My birthday is coming up in a few days and with my birthday cash I will probably buy De-Loused in the Comatorium and This.

Foreskin Fondler
August 4th 2006


Is the album anything like the first two singles, because I thought those songs were vomit-inducing bad

Full Collapse299
August 4th 2006


Happy 50th. Here's to 50 more. I've been meaning to give this a listen. I like the Widow but I don't think it can be compared to the rest.This Message Edited On 08.04.06

Two-Headed Boy
August 4th 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

Is the album anything like the first two singles, because I thought those songs were vomit-inducing bad

You won't like this album then.

Nice review, happy 50th, good album, good band etc.

August 4th 2006


Its growing on me, I'll say that. Cassandra Gemini is sickly awesome. I can't believe I overlooked this earlier...I'm such a sad person.

This is also an example of what a model review should be, fabulous work.

August 4th 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

Brilliant review!

August 4th 2006


Album Rating: 5.0

You kick ass.

This owns the other 2 review for the simple fact that you made the exact same points I would've made.

You quoted all of my favorite lines from the album, and you're right. The ambiance takes a bit to "get" but it's neccessary (sp?)

This album really changed my life.... Well.... It's changed the way I listen to music.... and music is pretty much my liffe so, yeah. It changed my life.

I'm proud to be a TMV fanboy.

Risiculous job on the review. Short, but very descriptive.

Chuck Mangione > Iluvatar > JesusThis Message Edited On 08.05.06

Cygnus Inter Anates
August 4th 2006


I've always wanted to eat glass with you again.

August 4th 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

You're my hero.

This will be looked back on in 30 years like the genius of Yes and King Crimson are now.

"Jesus, that was a classic album. And I own an original copy. Bought it in '05."

Against Miik!
August 5th 2006


Album Rating: 4.0

My least favorite Volta album i'd say, but that doesn't mean I don't still love it. I like all the albums, I just like this one the least.

So that being said, I don't think its deserves a 5. Maybe a 5 for Deloused and 3.5-4s for This and Amputechture.

August 5th 2006


Album Rating: 1.5

This album is a snoozefest, I can't beleive that so many people regard it as a "classic."

Like you said in the review this album isn't for everyone and I just suppose that it's not for me.

August 5th 2006


Album Rating: 5.0

How dare you have a different opinion than me >:|

MEh. You either love TMV or you really hate them.

August 5th 2006


I've heard some Mars stuff. Haven't been impressed. I'll give this a listen based on the strenght of this review.

La Revolucion
August 5th 2006


I hated them at first, but then they grew on me one day just randomly. Great stuff.

August 5th 2006


happy 50th. Has anyone noticed how hard it is to find stuff by this band on youtube?

La Revolucion
August 5th 2006


Yes, someone takes down the official things every once and awhile for some reason. I noticed that a little bit ago.

August 27th 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

[quote=review]The previously mentioned Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus features one of the most intricate guitar lines I’ve ever heard[/quote]

That's crazy that I can play the most insane riff you've ever heard, and I'm not even that good. It is a sweet riff though. The most insane riffs come courtesy of Dillinger Escape Plan, Mike Musillami, and DRACULACORE.

The Jungler
August 30th 2006


Album Rating: 4.0

This is the worst pile of crap ever written.This Message Edited On 08.30.06

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