March 10, 2005

Mars Volta- Frances the Mute

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Emo-prog rock. First off, emo, short for emotional, is usually associated with whiney semi-punk bands writing about girls. Prog is short for progressive; usually something that you don’t hear often, a result of classic punk’s downfall. The Mars Volta are commonly labeled with both of these titles. There are some common misconceptions that if you are a semi-new somewhat alternative band, you just have to be emo, and if your sound is not what would be classified as “mainstream,” then you just have to progressive. However, The Mars Volta are definitely in a league of their own.

The Mars Volta formed in 2001 after the break-up of stardom bound underground alt-punk gods, At The Drive In. Hailing from the border town of El Paso, TX, Cedric Bixler-Zavala leads on vocals while Omar Rodriguez-Lopez lays down the adventurous guitar escapades. In 2003 the band released De-Loused In The Comatorium, a bizarre yet enlightening mix of indie and progressive rock. They were, and still continue to be, too sincere for indie but not quite melodic enough for progressive rock. Their most recent release, Frances the Mute, will blow you away.

Frances the Mute is said to be a story, an opera if you will, pieced together from a diary found in a car by band member Jeremy Ward, who passed away in 2003. Opener “Cygnus … Vismund Cygnus,” which is said to tell the story of an HIV-positive male prostitute and drug addict born out of rape, (yeah don’t ponder it) builds to a powerful, string-driven climax at around the eight-minute mark but never bothers to come back down, staying aloft in a spiral of guitar arpeggios and overeager drumming before eventually dipping into a sea of distorted sounds. The lyrics throughout the majority of the album are unfathomably pretentious, if you actually take the time to read them. If not, you won’t understand anything that is said, with the exception of “The Widow,” the shortest piece at almost six minutes long. Probably the only single from this album, as none of the other songs are shorter than twelve and a half minutes, “The Widow” delivers a solid and almost normal performance with everyone doing what they do best. The third track, “L’Via L’Viaquez,” opens with Rodriguez-Lopez completely tearing a guitar riff apart and drawing it out to a perfect transition for Bixler-Zavala to chime in going back and forth between English and Spanish. This song displays the talents of The Mars Volta as they combine Latin beats, funk, jazz and metal. “L’Via” quickly jumps from raging guitar riffs and screaming notes to soft, somber Latin rhythms. The closer and magnum opus, “Cassandra Gemini,” is absolutely incredible. First off, it’s almost 33 minutes long and split up into five unnoticed sections.

This album begs for grandeur; it is mind-boggling and infused with energy yet relaxing at the same time. The 78 minutes fly by like a journey through a twisted confusing dream leaving you in a state of awe, shock and amusement. Listen to Frances the Mute.

Archived article by Adrian Prieto
Sun Staff Writer