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.