‘Frances the Mute’ Is a Musical Uprising

El Vaquero Staff Writer

Seldom is a band capable of creating an album that is great from start to finish without sacrificing their artistic vision for the sake of pleasing record label executives and so-called music aficionados. Such a task of creating “perfect” albums comes naturally to the Mars Volta (TMV), who have followed their highly acclaimed major label debut “De-loused in the Comatorium” (2003) with the equally anticipated “Frances the Mute.”

“De-loused” sold more than half a million copies worldwide, introducing the world to a band on the verge of creating a musical revolution with their infectious blend of psychedelic rock, funk and Latin percussion.
Like “De-loused,” “Frances,” too, has a story, a story that surges from the lines written in a diary found in the back of a car by the late Jeremy Ward, a friend and fellow bandmate of Mars Volta co-founders Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala.

The diary tells the story about the author’s search for his biological parents and the people he encounters that lead him closer to his real parents. Some of the names within the diary are the titles of songs in “Frances.”

There are five songs in the album, which total to a mind-blowing 77 minutes.

The first track of “Frances,” “Cygnus … Vismund Cygnus,” opens with a melancholy acoustic guitar that is abruptly halted by an aggressive plethora of sounds that include chanting threats of “Niño, preparate,” which translates to boy prepare yourself.

The musical vibe on “The Widow” is very reminiscent of classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. The organ provided by Isaiah Ikey Owens incorporates a gospel-like sound that serves as a buoyant contrast to the somber trumpet solo provided by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“L’via L’viaquez” is chock full of Latin rhythms that make you want to get up and dance or grab the closest dictionary to try and decipher the meaning behind the Spanish lyrics as sung by a very melodic Bixler. The two intense guitar solos on “L’via” are the works of Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante.

“Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore” is by far the most somber song on the entire album. Once again, TMV called upon Flea to lend his trumpet playing skills to the 13-minute masterpiece that plays out like a requiem. With lyrics like, “And the damn she will break/ make an ocean from this lake/ as they siphon off all of our blood,” add to the dark tone of the song which is further enhanced by the startling pounding of the skins by drummer Jon Theodore.

The last song on the album, “Cassandra Gemini,” starts off with a slurring Bixler repeating the words, “I think I’ve become like one of the others,” moans which are followed by Rodriguez’s screeching guitar.
By the fifth minute of “Cassandra,” the guitar playing becomes heavier and much more recurring. Bixler’s vocal’s go from high-pitched moans and shrieks to a more monotone, almost whispering sound and back again.
The guitar playing tones down at times, only to burst through the stillness without warning. Towards the end of the 30-minute song, the listener is almost convinced that the making of “Cassandra” started off as a regular jam session in the studio, with clearly no direction, nor real purpose. “Cassandra” ends the same way that “Cygnus” started, with the same melancholy acoustic guitar that this time around has a definite end.

The random sounds and the dragging on of these noises in between songs can be rather frustrating. But one cannot argue that TMV’s decision to include these sounds only help in bringing to life the story behind the tumultuous musical journey.

With “Frances the Mute,” TMV reiterate their musical talents and continue to cling on to their coveted position within the music industry. They declare once again that their ingenious approach to music is far from just being a fad. On the contrary, with this album, TMV has established itself as a musical force to be reckoned with.

Rating: * * * * (out of four)