The Mars Volta: Frances The Mute and The WidowFrances The Mute
To be honest, this was where the band lost me the first time around. I loved De-Loused In The Comatorium when it came out, but just couldn’t warm up to this one. This is sort of the reason why I never ended up hearing any of the subsequent albums until now.
I think at the time, my main issue was that I thought they’d gone overboard on the ambient and noise sections, and that aspect can sort of make this a frustrating listen. The biggest case is “Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore”, which starts with more than four minutes of frog chirps, whooshing noises, and Cedric imitating a theremin before the actual song starts. Elsewhere, “Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus” basically ends with 3 minutes of a seemingly “On The Run”
inspired synth loop, and “The Widow” is three minutes of actual song followed by about three more minutes of vocal manipulation and ugly synth noises. If there were a drinking game for this album, it would probably revolve around ambient interludes and Cedric Bixler singing “ohhhhhhh!”.
These segues aren’t always so prevalent though: Most of the 12 minute “L'Via L'Viaquez” is the full band playing together, and perhaps more surprisingly, the 32 minute “Cassandra Gemini” (which was split into 8 tracks due to executive meddling) is entirely free of such filler. And more often than not, the compositions do show progression from De-Loused: There’s more emphasis on Latin-inspired rhythms, Cedric harmonizes with himself much more, and there’s the addition of horns, strings, and flute. The Latin elements work especially well on “L’Via L’Viaquez”, where they’re incorporated into an unlikely but brilliant fusion of funk, prog, and metal. In general, if you’re willing to accept all the leave the camera running moments, there’s a lot of impressive material here.
Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus, L’Via L’Viaquez
The Widow (Single)
This EP features a radio edit of “The Widow”, which as you might expect fades out just before the ambient section starts, but otherwise leaves the song untouched. More importantly, though, it contains the title track to Frances The Mute. Apparently the band originally intended the song to open Frances The Mute and make it a double album (with Cassandra Gemini getting a disc all to itself), but the label wouldn’t go to the expense. The song is also available digitally as an itunes single.
“Frances The Mute” itself is somewhat of another offender in the lengthy intro and outro department: The song starts with four minutes of underwater clanking noises (which I imagine could be unsettling under the right listening conditions), and ends with a couple of minutes of the “Sarcophagi” section of Cassandra Gemini” with an AM-radio-like-effect (which is kind of cool sounding, actually). The main three sections of the song are great though, and would have made Frances The Mute a little bit stronger. The "In Thirteen Seconds" and "Five Would Grow and One Was Dead" sections would have been among the heaviest sections of the album, while "Nineteen Sank, While Six Would Swim" combines strange acoustic guitar chord progressions and two tracks of Cedric’s vocals (one sung, one whispered) to surprisingly eerie effect. Which arguably makes the whole filler problem on Frances The Mute a little more irritating, since it’s not like they were lacking in actual material, but at least the song is out there to be heard.
Frances The Mute