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Music Review: The Mars Volta – Frances the Mute

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If there is one CD among contemporary bands that everyone should check out, it is Frances the Mute by the Mars Volta. Released by Gold Standard Laboratories (Universal Music Group) in 2005, this follow-up album continued the Mars Volta’s tradition of eclectic progressive rock.

I must admit this CD changed the way I look at music. It is among my top five favorite CDs of all time. The Mars Volta, known for their eccentricity, have captured my heart. They use a good deal of ambient noise on this album to complement the actual musical parts, which I believe enhances the quality of the CD as a whole. It gives the CD an overarching mood or tone that won’t fail to captivate you.

Frances the Mute is a concept album, meaning all the songs on the CD are tied together by a certain theme (compositional, instrumental, lyrical, etc.). That is one of the biggest draws of the CD, not to mention the great display of talent the band consistently churns out. Every track brings out a new theme of the band’s persona while maintaining the mood and tone of the CD.

The opening track, “Cygnus, Vismund Cygnus” is an adventure and an incredible way to start a CD. The abrupt change from quiet and slow to loud and fast immediately grabbed my attention. The second track, titled “The Widow,” is the most radio-friendly song on the CD, but still contains some ambiance and Mars Volta-esque weirdness. “L’Via, L’Viaquez,” the third track, is my favorite. It has the most energy. Frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala sings in both Spanish and English, creating an interesting mix of vocal sounds. As usual, this song ends with ambient noise as well.

Tracks four through twelve are considered two different songs. They are titled “Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore” and “Cassandra Gemini”, but you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. Although different parts of each song are broken up by track numbers, it sounds like a 40-minute song. The display of musical diversity, creativity and knowing when to return to a musical idea captivated me.

While the lyrical ideas presented in Frances the Mute seem disjointed and often make no sense, Bixler-Zavala’s vocals are amazing throughout. Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who played bass on the Mars Volta’s debut album, makes an appearance on trumpet and RHCP’s guitarist John Frusciante also reappears on “L’Via L’Viaquez” after also making a cameo on the Mars Volta’s debut, De-Loused in the Comatorium.

Listening to the Mars Volta is an active, engaging experience. The more I listen to this CD, the more I appreciate it. Guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, who writes all of the band’s music, has done a great job composing a masterpiece. I feel that I can honestly say this CD is one of a kind. There is nothing I have come across that is like it in style. I recommend this CD to anyone who is looking to expand their musical horizons.

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