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The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 March 2005

The Mars Volta

Frances the Mute By Mars Volta
format: 16-bit Stereo CD
label: Universal
release year: 2005
performance: 8
sound 7
reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh

Image The Mars Volta is one offshoot from the recently dissolved band At The Drive-In (Sparta is its other splinter group, by the way), but the music it creates is nothing like stereotypical drive-in soundtrack ear candy. Back in the day, you may recall, drive-in movie theaters were almost synonymous with mindless entertainment. Continuing this cinematic analogy, The Mars Volta’s angle is more along the lines of a mature art house sound, instead. “Frances The Mute” was presumably inspired by the untimely drug death of former member, Jeremy Michael Ward. And from the dramatic sound of it, primary members Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez certainly had serious matters on their minds when they laid down this recording. But because Bixler and Rodriguez are stubbornly non-linear storytellers, listeners may find it far easier to pick up on this disc’s overall desperate emotional vibe, rather than gathering specific details about the album’s intended story – assuming there even is one.

t’s equally difficult to describe the stylistic aural goulash The Mars Volta has conjured up here. If progressive rock had had its genesis at the US/Mexican border, for instance, it may have come out a little bit like “Frances The Mute.” Such an international perspective is strongly suggested by this work, because many of its tracks are sung in both Spanish and English, and because traditional Mexican music oftentimes sits right along side more straight ahead rock elements in its mix. But because many of these “songs” (if you can even call them that) are broken down into multiple parts, it’s far too progressive to be labeled merely rock & roll. For instance, the opener, “Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus,” is divided into sections “A” through “D,” and clocks in at an exhausting forty minutes in length before all’s said and done. With its multiple song compartments and its oddly shaped series of extended tracks, perhaps ‘rock opera’ is an even better descriptor for it.

Furthermore, the singing on this disc is just as dramatic as is a night at the opera. Yet there are also a few earthier vocal moments too, such as the blues-y singing that drives the single “The Widow.” Its instrumental textures are rarely comprised of your typical rock ingredients. Instrumentation includes trumpets, tuba, cello, trombone and violins. Additionally, the band receives studio help from Flea and Jon Frusciante (The Red Hot Chilli Peppers), which was also the act’s most recent touring partner.

So what is the CD all about? (I was afraid you’d ask that, because I’m not sure if I have any idea). The disc begins with these words: “The ocean floor is hidden from your viewing lens/ A depth perception languished in the night all my life,” and the lyrics don’t get a whole lot clearer after that. You (the listener) just know in your heart of hearts that something serious is going on here. But like watching a foreign film without subtitles, you just cannot seem to coherently piece it all together from the clues placed before you.

This CD’s sound quality is fine, although it’s sometimes obscured by the seemingly random interaction of the playing. In fact, it almost seems as if the recording engineer captured The Mars Volta members jamming together in a room, and then stitched together all the best parts. If this is aural chaos, then at least it’s the good kind of aural chaos.

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