On My Record Player Part 20

The Mars Volta – Frances the Mute (2005)

This is the jump off! How did it all begin? Well, in early 2005 I was talking to Mikey Everson online and he told me about this band The Mars Volta that was about to come out with a new record called “Francis the Mute.” I heard a few tracks off of Deloused in the Comatorium and I loved what I heard and I told him he had to listen to At the Drive in whose members went on to form the Mars Volta. So what does this have to do with vinyl records? The Mars Volta are all about vinyl. They made a point to release the self titled track “Frances the Mute” exclusively on vinyl format and that was sold at one of my favorite places in the world, Relative Theory Records in Norfolk, Virginia. They were the ones that sold me my first records which were mostly Mars Volta. March 1st, 2005 was a very exciting day for me. I have to say first and foremost that I caved in and downloaded a leaked copy of Francis online a week or 2 before the record release and heard it early on and told the world on myspace. However, being a a DJ on a college radio station, I made a point to do a show on March 1st, after picking up the CD, to play all 77 minutes of Francis the Mute on my DJ Coleslaw radio show, which was epic. This was the one of the most exciting moments I have ever had about a record release and I was so proud to have a source to express my excitement. Now I just wanna mention that this record is so dope. It has brilliant arrangements that honor salsa and great moments in classic rock while staying fresh and full of bad ass grooves. This was the first Mars Volta album to be produced by only Omar Rodriguez who plays guitar for the group and writes and leads the band. He really indulged and made an un-compromised album that shows what kind of music this band wanted to play at this stage in their career. I remember going to New York City a few weeks after this record came out and listening to it non-stop on the way and through our journeys in the city, mainly to see the art work of the brilliant painter Alex Gray. A true fan that listens to this music is rewarded with “Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore.” It has a disturbing intro that goes on for about 2 minutes. Cassandra Gemini is a trip that is practically an album in of itself. My 2nd favorite track if it was on the album is the self titled track that I obtained a vinyl copy of. This is Cedric favorite songs from these recordings. Great lyrics and a very theatrical collage of sounds. This was a great musical discovery in my life and seeing them live May 1st, 2005 was one of my most memorabile concert and life experiences. I love the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, PA. I have seen the mars volta there 3 times now. acblakneyThis picture is from my concert I went to on October 10th with Jenny Geier the day after her 24th birthday. She was great company and I am so glad she got to share this experience with me. Frances the Mute was a record that came out at a great moment in my life,graduating college, entering the real world, and returning to northern VA to be with my family and best friends. I want to thank Mike Everson so much for giving me encouragement during this time to share my artwork on deviant art.http://www.rooksinc.deviantart.com Anyways, this vinyl kicks ass, did I mention this is the only album I have come across that was released with 3 records, 5 sides to fit all 77 minutes, and not to mention the 6th side counting the self titled song that is 14  minutes in length. Thank you Mars Volta for your indulgent ambitiousness.

Absolutepunk.net 96%/100

After the amazing Deloused in the Comatorium, The Mars Volta gave themselves two years to mess around with their confusing guitar sounds, vague lyrics, jazz and Latin influences. It turns out that Frances The Mute is the masterpiece some people are looking for, featuring arguably better musicianship, lyrical themes, and tighter sound than on their excellent debut.

What’s inside is one hell of an adventure. This is a progressive concept album, mixing together jazz, odd time-signatures, unique guitar distortion, and the occasional trumpet. To top it all off, you’re presented with a mess of ideas, vague lyrics depicting the protagonist of the story on some sort of search for his missing parents… or something like that.

Starting with the first track, “Cygnus…. Vismund Cygnus,” Frances The Mute takes you on the first step of the journey. If this album’s “like factor” was based on first impressions, then The Mars Volta got it right, as “Cygnus…” is one of the strongest tracks on the CD (granted, there are only five songs). It starts off with some Spanish-sounding guitar, and heads straight into a romp of craziness. With drums going everywhere, guitar outstretching the drums, and vocal ability to match the metallic funk (or funky metal, you pick) energy, it blows you away, almost coaxing you into the ambiance that then leads you into a closed hi-hat and snare side-taps, a much softer form of noise, a spiffy bass line, and, of course, a guitar solo that plays to an intense 29/16 time signature (that’s right, no grace notes). It builds and builds and builds, and never feels rushed. When it’s finally getting to the climax, Cedric Bixler-Zavala starts with his sweet vocals again, helping the song to build up until the final chorus, his vocal chords showing an insane amount of high range. After all this, the song fades ever so slowly into ambiance, setting the stage for the single, “The Widow”.

Ironically, while “The Widow” was the poster-child single of Frances The Mute, I find it to be near the bottom of my favorite tracks on this CD. That’s not saying it’s a horrible song, because it’s definitely a great example of their musicianship. Contrasting greatly with the album, and Mars Volta habits in general, “The Widow”‘s actual music (meaning, minus ambiance) lasts about four minutes long, sticks to 6/4 time signature, relying on eerie vocals and brooding guitar to keep the groove going. It definitely sticks, and the solo is great, but, again, not the best track on the CD.

“L’Via L’Viaquez” starts off with ambiance that has more of a distinct beat to it, and then slaps your mind with a guitar solo by John Frusciante (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame), backed by funky bass and some more classical instruments. The song heads into Spanish vocals, and definitely proves that Cedric’s vocal ability is phenomenal no matter what language he wants to speak at the moment. What stands out most in this song is the shift to Latin music, a welcome, if seemingly unfitting, twist (but really, it’s the Mars Volta we’re talking about here). “L’Via L’Viaquez” switches between these dynamics twice, each coming back to the more conventional rock sound. This song proves that backwards thinking can work.. “L’Via L’Viaquez” ends with more ambiance in the form of distorted, watery vocals, and subtle guitar noise.

“Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore” is a song as long as its name implies. Clocking in at just under 12 minutes, it’s the most psychedelic and ambient song on the CD, giving the listener a break from rushing music and mixtures of genres. It features trumpet (Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Spanish guitar, and background guitar from Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. Only near the end does it climax in blasting toms and bass drum, heavy bass, and guitars that make it sound like it could give you a heart-attack. The beginning and the ending of this song sound like they could belong in an epic soundtrack of some kind (which is something Frances The Mute could be considered, since it is a narrative concept album).

“Cassandra Gemini” might be the best track on the CD. It really does depend on your patience. While it doesn’t take a lot of build-up in the beginning, like the other four songs, “Cassandra Gemini” is just intense, brooding vocals of Cedric being backed by intense fret-work and back-and-forth switches between singing and short guitar solos, and, all the while, drums just going everywhere. This song is probably the pinnacle of lyrical ability and progressive rock as a whole for The Mars Volta, since the song manages to change time signature, guitar sounds, drumming dynamics, and lyric composition many, many times in the thirty-plus minute masterpiece. It would be a hard and lengthy attempt to explain how amazing this song is, but, with its multiple guitar solos, differences in vocal effects, and the fact that it never stops pumping musical euphoria into the listener’s ears, I could never do this song justice. Truly, this song could be released as an short album of its own.

The CD ends up being three minutes short of eighty. From beginning to end, the album is a prime example of how to mix every genre of rock together, plus some stuff from outside the box, without ruining things. This album is almost perfect, the small complaint that I have being that I just can’t absorb half of what Bixler-Zavala ever says because of his amazing ability as a lyricist. Frances The Mute is more than a musical adventure into the prodigal minds of The Mars Volta, and is more than the best album of 2005. It’s The Mars Volta, at their very best.

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