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The Mars Volta - Frances The Mute CD (album) cover

FRANCES THE MUTE

The Mars Volta

 

Heavy Prog

4.06 | 889 ratings

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TCat
5 stars Those who want to enter into the unknown realms of The Mars Volta's music should either start with this album or with "De-loused in the Comatorium", mostly for safety reasons. If you start with "Amputecture" or "The Bedlam in Goliath", you will be entering the realm of what may seem like chaos and insanity, because both of those albums are some of the most challenging and dense albums I've ever heard. Many listeners actually found this album, "Francis the Mute" very challenging at first, but, believe me, this one is so much more structured than the previous two I just mentioned. The music here fits more of a structured and traditional form of writing, even though there isn't anything very traditional about this album. There are recognizable melodies on this album that are evident on the first listen, and this album probably better represents The Mars Volta than "Deloused..." does, but it is also an excellent album as is this one.

In "FtM", there is a lot more contrast in sound, the music is less dense, there is a lot more experimentation going on, and the music is better on the first listen. This is outstanding song writing and composition all the way through. The process was quite different here then it would be on "Amputecture" and "BiG". On the development of the music on this album, Cedric would write the songs basic structure including the lyrics. Then he would meet one-on-one with the individual band members who would take the basic sound and add their parts to it, taking it slowly at first, and then bringing it up to tempo. Each layer would be added until it became the sound that we have on the album. In later albums, the process was to create music more unstructured and on the fly, all together and at the moment, hence the feeling of chaos that prevails on those albums. This is why it is wise to start out with this album if you are considering exploring the music of TMV.

You get a lot of variety on this album, even within each separate track. "Cygnus..." will give you a good idea of the types of sounds you will hear throughout the album, great structure, complex meters and song structure, amazing instrumentation and even sections hinting on experimentation, especially at the end of the track. "The Widow" is the radio friendly track. It is the most accessible, as would be expected, with a pretty standard 6/8 rhythm and the surprising addition of brass. On the radio edit, the song is just over 3 minutes, but on the album version it is close to 6 minutes. Those extra minutes consists of some really cool experimentation (not really ambient as other reviewers have said, just experimental).

"L'Via l'Viaquez" is another great track that has some great guitar solos and Spanish sounding breakdowns resembling a samba rhythm. This is some great genre mixing sound that you don't get enough of in later albums that break up the wall of sound and denseness that is sometimes present here. Very excellent and creative. "Miranda..." is another great track that continues with the same style of excellent sound and music with all the same complexity. This one has a lighter feel to it at times, though it is still quite complex.

Following this is the 30 minute, multi movement epic masterpiece called "Cassandra Gemini". Again, this one has a lot of structure especially compared to later albums. However, this is probably closer to the chaos that would come, but is still an amazing piece of work. I'm not about to take it apart piece by piece, just expect a lot great guitar work, some dissonance and breakdowns with mood shifts and swings throughout.

The mixes of the later albums would also be more dense to reflect the music. This album is mixed to allow the individual parts to stand out a lot better. Even though I have grown to enjoy the later Mars Volta albums, to me they just don't arrive at the masterpiece status like this album does. It has complexity, experimentation, great musicianship and song craft, better balance and structure yet never commercial (except for the short radio track), great orchestration. This is definitely one of the best prog albums from the 2000's and should be considered essential. This is also an incredible band's best album. A must have for prog lovers.

TCat | 5/5 |

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