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


The Mars Volta


Heavy Prog

4.07 | 1009 ratings

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4 stars The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute

Strap up, this one's long...

Well, this is the second studio album from space-punk-proggers The Mars Volta, and, when you really get down to it, I think it's my favorite studio release of the four (five if Tremulant is included) that are currently present. Frances the Mute is really quite a different experience from any of their other albums. In De-Loused in the Comatorium we have a dark, punk/prog sonic blast of energy that's quite fun and very emotional--a very solid debut release--in Amputechture we have a completely different TMV--a jazzier, more sequenced, more progressive, and more experimental TMV sound that's not necessarily any better or worse than their previous sound--in The Bedlam in Goliath the band seem to try to combine the sonic energy of De-loused with the jazzy eclecticism of Amputechture, but the result gets rather tired quickly...So we have all of this, historically, but what's missing? The closest thing to a masterpiece album The Mars Volta have conjured yet Z(and are likely to conjuure), which is to say, this album.

The reasons I may prefer Frances the Mute over their others is mostly semantic when you get down to it: instead of the spliced together antics of Amputechture, the simple (yet nonetheless effective) prog-punk style of De-loused, or the not-so-successful splicing of the two on Bedlam, Frances the Mute is comprised of five songs that take the best aspects from all of these albums (foreseeing the development in post-Frances albums) and, essentially, amplify upon them. Where De-loused punk-rocked, Frances prog-rocks; where Amputechture jazz-rocked, Frances does it better; where Bedlam fused and squished songs together, Frances elaborates (Cassandra Geminni is 32 minutes long.) and finalizes. Frances is the pinnacle, the other three are the supports in my eyes--the foundation for the tower; and what a monumental tower it is.

Now the music:

The album begins with a serious hint of genius in Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus, which is an insane romp-track from any camera-angle. From the acoustic beginning segment all the way through the jazzy, oddly-timed building section--and the great, sonic choruses (something present throughout the album), it just is completely magnificent--and, obviously, is a great way to open up this album.

While I'm on this one, I'll address the largest complaint attached to this CD--the ambiance. Personally, I love ambient and effects-laden music/projects (it's a pleasure of mine for sure, something I look for in bands)--so it does little but enhance the CD for me (not including the useless The Widow ambiance, which is a nagging, useless flaw of the album)--making it even more dreamy than it already is; however, for some (many perhaps)--it is obviously going to seem like bad taste and unnecessary--but it's really all opinion. Consider before you toss around complaints that the ambiance is present mostly as a homage to the late sound manipulator Jeremy Ward, who died after De-loused was released, while this album was being created.

The Widow is the single of the album, and is a traditional rock ballad in waltz time and tempo. It holds strong ties to the masterpiece Since I've Been Lovin You by Led Zeppelin, which is a very good thing; this is the most De-loused reminiscent track on the album in my opinion--and the video is worth checking out as well for anyone interested.

L'Via L'Viaquez is phenomenal as a song and as a rocker--it shows off the band's talents very well. What makes this song truly great is the recurring salsa-interlude and piano solos, which actually brings up another point of complaint that I actually share: Ikey. The keyboards on this album are strangely void in the mix at times, and this can be rather sad, as Ikey's touch was certainly something that defined De-Loused.

Miranda....... begins with some Puerto-Rican frog noises coupled with Cedric's high crooning (Thom Yorke gone choir boy, basically) before emotional trumpets break in and close this amazingly dramatic and inclusive song into an emotional box of awesomeness. The introductory ambiance, however, does seem to drag a bit. Flea's trumpet playing (also featured on The Widow) is quite nice--and this song is a great one, full of emotion and individual just fits the dark mood of the album extremely well, while successfully pulling off what it seems Amputechture managed to do not-so-successfully: slower songs (with Vermicide, from that album, being my absolute least favorite TMV songs ever bar none).

Cassandra Gemini is a crazy, roller coaster ride of a track that spans over 32 minutes long yet manages to stay on it's feet--and not just that--but running on it's feet, for the duration of the song; like the great prog-epics, this one will keep you interested until the closing theme. The chorus to this song is instantly memorable (again, a trait the album holds in high regards), and the 25 Wives section near the center is just great. This song features the band's first hints of "jazziness", in structure at least, which would later appear a bit on Amputechture, as saxophones and flutes are present throughout this song at certain points. The album ends with a variation on the acoustic riff in the beginning--which, of course, forces the Pink Floyd likeness in album structure; which I think is a good thing, as it gives the album, and whatever crazy concept it may holster, more unity.

All in all, it's one great album--and is undoubtedly the band's closet thing to a masterpiece yet, if there is indeed one. I think that this album manages to find the nearly perfect balance between edgier, more aggressive sounds, and softer, freer, jazzier sounds. De-Loused was a bit too formulaic and edgy, and Amputechture a bit too free and spliced-sounding in terms of the compositions (again, others may disagree with this generalization) and rather mechanical compared to this release--which feels much more organic; even the vocals just sound more natural on this record.especially compared to the latest two releases, which are more effects-laden than any other album I've ever heard.

In other words, if there's one TMV record you feel you should pick up, and you're likened to prog...this one should, without a doubt, be the one you choose. While it's certainly not perfect, I definitely believe it is the closest to perfection that these boys have yet to come, or likely will come. 8.4/10 on my scale. I'll settle for 4 on mine, giving it the edge above the other TMV albums.

Figglesnout | 4/5 |


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