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The Mars Volta make a right
turn on
Frances the Mute

The Mars Volta
Frances the Mute (Universal)


After At The Drive-In split into Sparta and The Mars
Volta, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler
wasted no time into taking The Mars Volta into new,
bizarre territory. Their debut,
De-Loused in the
was an epic, conceptual album that
densely packed soaring vocals and flying guitars over
a prog-rock foundation. The common road was not the
destination then, nor is it now on their latest,
the Mute
Frances the Mute, while nowhere near the term “accessible,” is much brighter than its predecessor. The vocals,
guitar lines and drums are all cleaned up, and with horns and organ in the mix, winds sounds like the mutant
half brother of
Wish You Were Here and Kid A. It’s clearly a step forward for the sake of music evolution and as a
result sounds daring and new. However, it’s impossible to listen to this and NOT think of Pink Floyd’s mid-70s
heyday. The songs, or in this case, suites, twist and turn and run into each other, creating soundscapes that
blast out of stereo speakers.

The 70’s sound doesn’t end with Floyd, though. There’s plenty of guitar that would make Jimmy Page’s head
turn, and Bixler’s vocals are so powerful that the Robert Plant comparison has already been made ad nauseum.
But what really makes this album a throwback is its sense of abandon. It tries to go as far as it can in as many
directions as possible, throwing guitars in front of horns in front of strings. But the cleanness separates it from
De-Loused in the Comatorium, almost distractingly so. De-Loused was murky compared to this, which added to
its charm in a way. This is very good, filled with talent, but in almost too naked in a way. There isn’t as much
mystery anymore.

Frances the Mute, like the last record, plays as one piece and has a flowing story. Without reading what that story
is, I have no idea, but I don’t listen to albums for stories. I listen to the music behind the vocals and the vocals as
another instrument, and on that level it works very well. You’d be hard-pressed to think of another vocal/guitar
duo around that have as much synergy as these two do.

The Mars Volta can be a divisive band. Their hardcore following is almost matched by those who feel they’re just
overblown and pretentious. But is it pretentious to honestly feel and want to create expansive music? I hope not.
Frances the Mute tries a lot and succeeds at most of it, and I’ll always take my hat of to success.