Album of the Week: Frances the Mute (The Mars Volta)
by disillusioned
(Reviews, 1863 views) - 7/12/05
(recorded 7/12/05 @ 3:20:27 AM)
Every week since... well, this week, Ashleigh and I have determined an album of the week. (It started out as "album of the month," but these things moves quickly.)

We have thus decreed (Yes, as in a royal decree.) that this week's selection is Frances the Mute, by The Mars Volta.

The album is completely unlike anything you've heard to date. It is powerful and captivating and so completely all over the place, one might liken it to a Pollack painting in audio form. But cooler. It's eclectic and pulls violently from so many different influences and styles.

The tracklisting of the album itself is impressive, let alone its runtime of 77 minutes—it fills completely the CD, overflowing at the brim.

The first "track" is, at least as I understand it (and feel free to correct me if your knowledge of all things Volta is more comprehensive than mine):
Cygnus---- Vismund Cygnus (A- Sarcophagi, B- Umbilical Syllables, C- Facilis Descenus Averni, D- Con Safo)
It's 13:09, with the four movements mentioned parenthetically.

It starts off frantically and stays that way rather throughout. There are a few dips in the third and fourth movements, and D) Con Safo ends oh-so-quietly, having trailed off for a few minutes.

Next on the disc is The Widow, their quintessential single. This is how I discovered The Mars Volta, watching an episode of Rescue Me on FX the other night. I made a brief mention of it in my other entry, and it has a haunting and powerful melody that you'll have stuck in your head for just about forever.

The story behind the album is that its inspiration was pulled from a diary one of the Volta guys found in the back of a car he was repossessing, about a man's trek to find his birth parents. Said bandmember died of a drug overdose before the release of even their first album.

The Widow has a very smokey feel to it, describing either a cigarette, a cigarette smoker or a cigarette peddler. Either way, it's just as captivating as the rest, and if you let the full 5 minutes run their length, there's a great deal of pink noise and general experimentation which is very Pink Floyd-esque, and would certainly be cool if you were completely stoned.

Next is L' Via L' Viaquez, a 12:21 trip that completely covers as many spectrums as there are colors, starting off with nearly a minute of low bass rumblings before diving into a crazy lead guitar that jars you out of whatever state you were in. The vocals cut in with terse Spanish and a solid drum beat to back them before driving into an amazing chorus and what I imagine would be considered a bridge—this piece that sounds part Santana, part crazy. It's a somber, salsaesque sound, flowing with piano and light percussion and English lyrics:
"And with every body that I find, and with every Claymore that they mine,
I won't forget who we're looking for / Oh mother help me, I'm looking for..."

And then bam. Face first into a heavy, driving, amazing guitar solo. Hope you still have your teeth.

It continues its brilliant alternation for another 8 minutes or so, and you just simply won't tire of it.

L' Via transitions seamlessly into Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore, which itself has four movements:
A—A Vade Mecum (13:09)
B—Con Safo (2:55)
C—Pour Another Icepick (4:45)
D—Pisacis (Phra-Men-Ma) (6:40)

My initial impression of Miranda was that it was just nuts. For one thing, it takes over four minutes of sine wave craziness for anything "substantial" to happen, before a few unexpected horns rip into the air. I wasn't unimpressed, but it didn't really have me until the main melody line came out and I fell completely under its spell... The lyrics and the song itself just totally drags you under, and once the drums come in, heavy and deliberate, there's nothing left for you to do but give in.

The rest of Miranda is just that way, each movement choosing to express itself differently.

Con Safo slides right into Cassandra Gemini's first movement: A. Taranti, clocking in at just under 8 minutes. It has some heavy guitar work and moves at a brisk pace, as if its trying to race itself somewhere.

Possibly the most impressive aspect about this album is how brilliantly it's all brought together. L' Via moves into Miranda and then into Cassandra from one track to the next without a pause, yet each express their own identity completely separately. It's just great.

Understand that Frances the Mute is not for everyone. Hell, you probably won't like it. It's offensive in its brash sound and violent departure from the maintstream. But if you're willing to look into an album that will take you completely for a trip, in lyrics, melodies, harmonies, experimentation with sound and everything else, you should give it a go, completely. If nothing else, you'll likely enjoy The Widow.

Give L' Via a try and if you like that, you're probably ready to take the plunge.

Have a fun time with them, and tell me what you think:
(Listed in order as they are on the album, as this is somewhat critical.)

Cygnus---- Vismund Cygnus (A- Sarcophagi, B- Umbilical Syllables, C- Facilis Descenus Averni, D- Con Safo)
The Widow
L' Via L' Viaquez
Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore - A - A Vade Mecum
Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore - B - Pour Another Icepick
Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore - C - Pisacis (Phra-Men-Ma)
Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore - D - Con Safo
Cassandra Geminni - A. Taranti
Cassandra Geminni - B. Plant A Nail In The Navel Stream
Cassandra Geminni - C. Faminepulse
Cassandra Geminni - D. Multiple Spouse Wounds
Cassandra Geminni - E. Sarcophagi

(Edit: After looking through several different sites in confusion at the tracklist, I've discovered that the above MP3s are indeed in order, although only the first Miranda track is tecnically "Miranda." The rest are all "parts" of Cassanda Geminni. But the band says don't bother trying to make sense of it. It was supposed to be five tracks to begin with, but that would make it an EP, so they split it up like this. It's art. Just deal.
Previous musing: Perhaps a puzzle.
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