Frances the Mute

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Frances the Mute
Studio album by The Mars Volta
Released March 1, 2005
Recorded January–October 2004
Genre Progressive rock, experimental rock, psychedelic rock
Length 76:57 (CD edition)
77:19 (triple vinyl edition)
Label Gold Standard Laboratories, Universal, Strummer
Producer Omar Rodríguez-López
The Mars Volta chronology
De-Loused in the Comatorium
(2003)
Frances the Mute
(2005)
Amputechture
(2006)
Singles from Frances the Mute
  1. "The Widow"
    Released: March 14, 2005
  2. "L' Via L' Viaquez"
    Released: July 11, 2005

Frances the Mute is the second studio album by American progressive rock band The Mars Volta released on March 1, 2005 on Gold Standard Laboratories and Universal. Produced by guitarist and songwriter Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, the album incorporates dub, ambient, Latin and jazz influences, and is the first to feature bassist Juan Alderete and percussionist Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez. The album also includes contributions from future saxophonist Adrián Terrazas-González, who joined the band during its subsequent tour.

Frances the Mute sold 123,000 copies in its opening week and has sold 465,000 copies as of September 2006. The album made multiple "Best of" lists at the end of 2005.[1] In the Q & Mojo Classic Special Edition Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock, the album came #18 in its list of "40 Cosmic Rock Albums"[2] and the album was named as one of Classic Rock's 10 essential progressive rock albums of the decade.[3][4]

Background[edit]

Jeremy Ward, audio artist for The Mars Volta until his death, had previously worked as a repo man. One day, Ward discovered a diary in the backseat of a car he was repossessing, and began to note the similarities between his life and that of the author — most notably, that they had both been adopted. The diary told of the author's search for his biological parents, with the way being pointed by a collection of people, their names being the basis for each named track of Frances the Mute.

Writing and recording process[edit]

Omar Rodríguez-López wrote all the music for Frances the Mute while on tour for De-Loused in the Comatorium. Some musical motifs presented on the tour as jams found their place on the album. "Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus" includes two sections ("Facilis Descenus Averni" and "Con Safo") that first appeared as breakdowns in "Drunkship of Lanterns" (as heard on Live EP) and "Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt" respectively,[5][6] and several parts of "Cassandra Gemini" previously appeared in "Cicatriz ESP" performances (as heard on Scabdates). The album was initially to be titled Sarcophagus.[7]

Rodríguez-López arranged and produced the recording sessions himself. Rather than bring his ideas to the band as a whole and working them out at group rehearsals, he met individually with each player to practice each part one-on-one. "We'll sit there and play it forever and slow—real slow—to understand what's happening. It's easy to play something fast and loud, but to play it soft and slow takes a certain amount of discipline. Then once we understand the part, everyone's free to elaborate—their personalities come out and it's not my part anymore; they get into and give it that swing that I can't give it."[8] Rodríguez-López took the additional step of recording the band member separately before layering the various tracks to create each song. Drummer Jon Theodore was the first to record his parts, and he spent time arranging and mapping out the songs with Omar and in the process figuring out what the rhythmic structures would be stated on the recording process. "This is the first time I've ever been so methodical about recording. Normally I would go into the situation with as good an idea as I could, whether that was from performing the songs on tour or having a general road map. But this was the first instance where I considered every single hit all the way through, every figure up to and including every change. There were no question marks. So when I was tracking with the metronome it was just a question of right or wrong."[9] An exception of such recording method was the middle section of "Cassandra Gemini", edited from a lengthy jam session.

Tracking this way had a mixed reception in the band; Theodore and bassist Juan Alderete responded well to the individualistic approach while keyboard player Ikey Owens didn't like it at all. But, as Rodríguez-López said, "People filling in ideas can become tedious and counterproductive. You find yourself working backwards. When you're in the studio 'what ifs' are your biggest enemy, so my general rule is, if it's something you can't live with—if a sentence begins with 'I can't' or 'I will not'—then we examine it. But if it's 'maybe we should' or 'I think that' then it's like, hey man, full steam ahead. Not that there isn't a lot of refinement to what we do—obviously there is— but I consider it a balance of raw energy and refinement."[8]

Frances the Mute featured the largest array of guest musicians on any Mars Volta album to date. Once again, Flea and John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers were featured, this time Flea contributing trumpet to "The Widow" and "Miranda...". "L' Via L' Viaquez" featured Omar's childhood hero, salsa pianist Larry Harlow, while "Cassandra Gemini" had Adrián Terrazas-González (who was later a full-time member of the band) on woodwinds. All the tracks also included full string and horn sections, arranged by David Campbell with the help of Omar Rodríguez-López.

In 2012, Juan Alderete noted that Frances the Mute is the studio album he is most proud of.[10]

Release history[edit]

In December 2004, a full copy of Frances the Mute was leaked to the Internet from the vinyl version. The rip was of poor quality. Encoded as a 96 kbit/s MP3, other versions were reencoded to 192 kbit/s WMA from the source mp3, resulting in even worse audio quality. Gold Standard Laboratories issued a statement decrying the Internet release for its subpar sound quality, and suggesting that fans should respect the band's request not to share the leaked music.

The first single, "The Widow", was released in early 2005 and the album Frances the Mute was released on midnight, March 1, 2005. One pressing was a three set limited edition, containing a single with a radio edit of "The Widow", and the unreleased title song "Frances the Mute." Also in the collection is a DVD that includes clips from their performance at the Electric Ballroom in London on July 9, 2003, "The Widow" music video, and the "Televators" music video. Finally, the last item was a 12" single pressed on marble green vinyl[11] including "Frances The Mute" and a live acoustic version of "The Widow" played at The Wiltern in Los Angeles on May 13, 2004, released by Gold Standard Labs. Only approximately 1,000 were pressed.

A second single from the album, "L' Via L' Viaquez" was released in June 2005. Included on this single there was another unreleased song entitled "The Bible and the Breathalyzer".

Frances The Mute sold over 100,000 copies within the first week of release, and debuted at number four on the Billboard Album Charts. According to Nielsen SoundScan, nearly 465,000 copies were sold in the United States. The album was the band's career best at No. 4 until their fourth album The Bedlam in Goliath came out almost 3 years later on the Billboard 200 at No. 3. The album was certified gold by the RIAA in the US for shipments of 500,000 albums on October 5, 2009.

In 2008, the edited version of "L' Via L' Viaquez" was featured on the video game Guitar Hero: World Tour.[12]

Sound[edit]

Frances the Mute is comparable to The Mars Volta's 2003 release De-Loused in the Comatorium, with its cryptic lyrics and highly layered instrumentals, although the progressive rock influence is stronger on Frances the Mute than it was on De-Loused in the Comatorium. "The Widow" is notably the only short, pop-structured song on the album, although the last half of it features a lengthy, non-radio-friendly outro of manipulated tape loops of organs and electronic noise. Ambient noise plays a larger role on Frances the Mute than it does on De-Loused in the Comatorium. Notably, "Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus" ends with the recording of children's voices and passing cars (said to have been made by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez in front of the house where he used to live with Bixler-Zavala and Ward[13]), while the first movement of "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore", "Vade Mecum" features 4 minutes of coquí frogs (credited as "The Coquí of Puerto Rico" on the album sleeve) singing while a thick soundscape is slowly built from guitars, synthesizers and Cedric Bixler-Zavala's voice. According to Rodriguez-Lopez, the song was influenced by the music from western movies: "I'm a big fan of spaghetti-western and I think it shows on "Miranda". Our Morricone-influence has always been there, but on "Miranda" we let it all out. The last song ["Non-Zero Possibility"] on the last At the Drive-In album, the best thing we ever did by the way, had touches of spaghetti-western."

Fifth and final song of the album, "Cassandra Gemini", clocking at 32 minutes and 32 seconds is to date the longest studio song released by The Mars Volta. Rodriguez-Lopez said of the song: "Ever since I was a teenager, and had various listening experiences with the likes of King Crimson, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis's Bitches Brew, I've always wanted to do something like "Cassandra". Something deformed and out of control. Something enormous and violent, a whole album fitted into one composition. Something ruthless that no one can remain careless to."

Lyrics[edit]

Regarding the album's lyrical content, vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala has stated that:[14]

A lot of it was [written] on the spot. Omar — because he collects TVs — would set up his wall of TVs again. We used to live together and he would set them up all the time — kind of like in the David Bowie movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth, he had a stack of TVs like that. So he would do that while I would record vocals, and that would be the main inspiration. So it was everything from The Magnificent Seven and any Akira Kurosawa stuff. And I wouldn’t have [lyrics] written right away; I would just do takes of gibberish and then later try to fix them to make them into words. Sometimes he wanted to just keep the gibberish takes which he liked a lot better because it was the first reaction to the music. It’s just really [about] being in a state of being willing to give up to the producer your scratch tracks, as opposed to really working on it and refining it.

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic (75/100) [15]
Review scores
Source Rating
AbsolutePunk 96% [16]
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars [17]
Alternative Press 5/5 stars [18]
E! Online A− [19]
Entertainment Weekly B− [20]
Pitchfork Media (2.0/10) [21]
PopMatters 8/10 stars (Cober-Lake)
4/10 stars (Begrand) [15][22]
Rock Hard (de) 8/10[23]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars [24]
Stylus Magazine A− [25]

The album so far has a score of 75 out of 100 from Metacritic based on "generally favorable reviews".[15] The Aquarian Weekly gave it an A and called it "a very heavyweight fight for a listener to get through."[26] Punknews.org gave it all five stars and said, "Leave the hating to the real playa hatas, like Buc Nasty and Silky Johnson, because Frances The Mute will blow your mind. So give up your qualms about how pretentious this is, and how overindulgent, because given the chance, you're in for a hell of a ride."[27] Drowned in Sound gave it a perfect score of ten and called it "a compulsory purchase."[28] Spin gave it an A− and said it "explores an explosive groove Comatorium only implied."[15] Playlouder gave it four-and-a-half stars out of five and said, "Miraculously the lyrics never sound like the pompous shite they undoubtedly are. They fit the music and make the whole picture even more laughably and absurdly brilliant."[29] In 2005, the album was ranked number 440 in Rock Hard magazine's book of The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time.[30]

Blender gave it four stars out of five and called it "a visceral, powerful muso's record, a nerve-jangling explosion in a drum clinic."[15] Paste also gave it four stars out of five and said it "bursts at the jewel-case hinges with Comatorium’s trademarks: musical inventiveness and wildly emotive vocals."[31] NME gave it a score of seven out of ten and said, "Within this impressive, ambitious, often stupid whole, are moments of melthing human beauty."[32] Billboard gave it a positive review and said the album "unfolds upon multiple listens, sometimes threatening to collapse under its own pretensions (meandering musical passages, sound effects), but ultimately, it is an ambitious and rewarding album."[33] The A.V. Club also gave it a positive review and said, "On the whole, the record sounds more like the blueprint for a stunning live show than like a viable document of a top-flight hard rock band."[34]

Other reviews are pretty average, mixed or negative: Uncut gave it a score of three stars out of five and said it "smells like another concept album, is far too long and so pretentious as to be farcial. Amazingly, it's also mighty entertaining."[35] The Guardian also gave it a score of three stars out of five and said of The Mars Volta: "You have to give them credit for ambition, though, because you're not going to find this particular witches' brew anywhere else."[36] The New York Times gave it an average review and said, "The music combines the kitchen-sink inclusiveness of psychedelia with the swerves and jolts of the hip-hop era, to approach the ravenous eclecticism of Latin alternative rock."[37] Yahoo! Music UK gave it five stars out of ten and called it "An incredibly accomplished record, a true testament to the band’s imagination, intellectual curiosity and outrageous musical talent.... Unfortunately, 'Frances The Mute' is also awful."[38] Under the Radar also gave it a score of five stars out of ten and said, "Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala are fantastically talented musicians and arrangers. But until they rein in their astronomical pretension, they'll always look more important than they truly are."[15]

Track listing[edit]

The finalized track listing had five tracks and was intended to be released as such on all formats; the vinyl version and online retailer copies (such as those from the iTunes Store) can be found with this track listing. Because of disputes with Universal Records, "Cassandra Gemini" (listed as "Cassandra Geminni" on most versions of the album) [note 1] was arbitrarily split into eight tracks on the CD version, taking up tracks 5 through 12, since the band would otherwise only be paid an EP's wages for a 5 track album. The splits in the eight CD tracks (5 through 12) do not represent the five listed movements of the song, although the entirety of "Sarcophagi" is within the twelfth track. Additionally, the song "Frances the Mute", found on the single for "The Widow", ends with the "Sarcophagi" motif filtered through what sounds like radio static, which, if played immediately before the album, serves as a transition into "Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus".

On vinyl, "Cassandra Gemini" was split among two sides, in the middle of "Faminepulse". Each side of vinyl (save the final one) ends with a locked groove, repeating either a sound effect or a bar of music endlessly until the needle is lifted. The third side, containing "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore", opens by repeating the 27 seconds of coquí noises that conclude "L' Via L' Viaquez"; this small portion is indexed separately from "Miranda".[39] A limited edition 4LP version also contained the "Widow" single as the fourth vinyl; all four discs were printed on glow-in-the-dark vinyl and were packaged in a red plastic case.[40]

Original track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by Cedric Bixler-Zavala, all music composed by Omar Rodríguez-López.

No. Title Length
1. "Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus" (Sarcophagi / Umbilical Syllables / Facilis Descenus Averni / Con Safo) 13:02
2. "The Widow"   5:51
3. "L' Via L' Viaquez"   12:21
4. "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" (Vade Mecum / Pour Another Icepick / Pisacis (Phra-Men-Ma) / Con Safo) 13:09
5. "Cassandra Gemini[note 1]" (Tarantism / Plant a Nail in the Navel Stream / Faminepulse / Multiple Spouse Wounds / Sarcophagi) 32:32

CD pressing[edit]

No. Title Length
1. "Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus" (Sarcophagi / Umbilical Syllables / Facilis Descenus Averni / Con Safo) 13:02
2. "The Widow"   5:51
3. "L' Via L' Viaquez[note 2]"   12:22
4. "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" (Vade Mecum / Pour Another Icepick / Pisacis (Phra-Men-Ma) / Con Safo) 13:10
5. "Cassandra Gemini" (Pt. 1) 4:46
6. "Cassandra Gemini" (Pt. 2) 6:40
7. "Cassandra Gemini" (Pt. 3) 2:56
8. "Cassandra Gemini" (Pt. 4) 7:41
9. "Cassandra Gemini" (Pt. 5) 5:00
10. "Cassandra Gemini" (Pt. 6) 3:48
11. "Cassandra Gemini" (Pt. 7) 0:47
12. "Cassandra Gemini" (Pt. 8) 0:54

Japanese bonus DVD[edit]

"Frances the Mute" is presented as audio only; the rest is video.

No. Title Length
1. "Frances the Mute" (In Thirteen Seconds / Nineteen Sank, While Six Would Swim / Five Would Grow and One Was Dead) 14:36
2. "Drunkship of Lanterns" (live)  
3. "Cicatriz ESP" (live)  
4. "Televators" (live)  

Best Buy exclusive[edit]

The Best Buy version of the album included a download card for one bonus track:

No. Title Length
1. "The Widow" (live acoustic) 3:30

Vinyl pressing[edit]

Side One
No. Title Length
1. "Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus" (Sarcophagi / Umbilical Syllables / Facilis Descenus Averni / Con Safo) 13:02
2. "The Widow"   5:50
Side Two
No. Title Length
1. "L' Via L' Viaquez"   12:21
Side Three
No. Title Length
1. "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" (Vade Mecum / Pour Another Icepick / Pisacis (Phra-Men-Ma) / Con Safo) 13:48
Side Four
No. Title Length
1. "Cassandra Gemini" (Tarantism / Plant a Nail in the Navel Stream / Faminepulse) 14:52
Side Five
No. Title Length
1. "Cassandra Gemini" (Faminepulse / Multiple Spouse Wounds / Sarcophagi) 17:39

Personnel[edit]

The Mars Volta[edit]

Additional musicians
  • Flea – trumpet on "The Widow" and "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore"
  • John Frusciante – first two guitar solos on "L' Via L' Viaquez"
  • Larry Harlow – piano, treated clavinet on "L' Via L' Viaquez" and "Cassandra Gemini"
  • Lenny Castro – added percussion (all tracks)
  • Adrián Terrazas-González – tenor sax, flute on "Cassandra Gemini"
  • Salvador (Chava) Hernandez – trumpet
  • Wayne Bergeron – trumpet
  • Randy Jones – tuba
  • Roger Manning – piano
  • Nicholas Lane – trombone
  • William Reichenbach – bass trombone
  • David Campbell – string, brass, piano, and percussion arrangements
  • Larry Corbett – cello
  • Suzie Katayama – cello
  • Violins:
    • Fernano Moreno
    • Erick Hernandez
    • Diego Casillas
    • Ernesto Molina
    • Joel Derouin
    • Roberto Cani
    • Mario De Leon
    • Peter Kent
    • Josefina Vergara
  • "The Coquí of Puerto Rico"

Singles[edit]

  • "The Widow" (2005)
  • "L' Via L' Viaquez" (2005)

Charts[edit]

Album[edit]

Year Chart Position
2005 The Billboard 200 4
2005 Top Canadian Albums 6
2005 Top Internet Albums 4
2005 UK Albums Chart 23
2005 Norwegian Albums Chart 1
2005 Australian Albums Chart 9
2005 Austrian Albums Chart 43
2005 Dutch Albums Chart 34

Singles[edit]

Year Single Chart Position
2005 "The Widow" Mainstream Rock Tracks 26
2005 "The Widow" Modern Rock Tracks 7
2005 "The Widow" Billboard Hot 100 95
2005 "The Widow" UK Singles Chart 20

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b The official spelling for the song title is "Cassandra Gemini", despite the typo "Geminni" printed on all parts of the CD packaging - the MusicBrainz database, the vinyl release of the album, and the band's official site all list the track as "Gemini."
  2. ^ "L' Via L' Viaquez" is often considered a typo but is most likely indicating a contraction of a longer word beginning with L, as it appears that way in all versions of the album and on the band's official site.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Acclaimed Music - Frances the Mute
  2. ^ Q Classic: Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock, 2005.
  3. ^ Classic Rock, February 2010, Issue 141.
  4. ^ "Classic Rock – 10 Essential 00s Prog Albums « New Music Excess". Newmusicexcess.wordpress.com. 2010-02-27. Retrieved 2012-02-16. 
  5. ^ "The Mars Volta - Drunkship of Lanterns - Audio, Lyrics, Information, Performances". The Marble Shrine. Retrieved 2012-02-16. 
  6. ^ "The Mars Volta - Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt - Audio, Lyrics, Information, Performances". The Marble Shrine. 2003-06-02. Retrieved 2012-02-16. 
  7. ^ MTV Italy Interview on YouTube
  8. ^ a b Fader Magazine, 2005
  9. ^ Modern Drummer, June 2005 Issue
  10. ^ http://www.reddit.com/r/tabled/comments/xjt5o/table_iama_bassist_for_the_mars_volta_juan/
  11. ^ Colored Vinyl
  12. ^ Guitar Hero: World Tour Set List
  13. ^ [1][dead link]
  14. ^ "Interview: Cedric Bixler-Zavala of The Mars Volta". Verbicide Magazine. Retrieved 2012-02-16. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f Critic reviews at Metacritic
  16. ^ AbsolutePunk review
  17. ^ Allmusic review
  18. ^ Alternative Press review
  19. ^ E! Online review[dead link]
  20. ^ Entertainment Weekly review
  21. ^ Pitchfork Media review
  22. ^ PopMatters review
  23. ^ Schleutermann, Marcus. "Rock Hard". issue 215. Retrieved 22 May 2013. 
  24. ^ Rolling Stone review at the Wayback Machine (archived November 11, 2007)
  25. ^ Stylus Magazine review
  26. ^ The Aquarian review
  27. ^ Punknews.org review
  28. ^ Drowned in Sound review
  29. ^ Playlouder review at the Wayback Machine (archived March 1, 2005)
  30. ^ [...], Rock Hard (Hrsg.). [Red.: Michael Rensen. Mitarb.: Götz Kühnemund] (2005). Best of Rock & Metal die 500 stärksten Scheiben aller Zeiten. Königswinter: Heel. p. 33. ISBN 3-89880-517-4. 
  31. ^ Shellen, Grant (2005-04-01). "The Mars Volta - Frances The Mute :: Music :: Reviews". Paste. Archived from the original on 2005-04-13. Retrieved 2013-05-18. 
  32. ^ NME review
  33. ^ Billboard review at the Wayback Machine (archived May 4, 2005)
  34. ^ The A.V. Club review
  35. ^ Album reviews at CD Universe
  36. ^ The Guardian review
  37. ^ The New York Times review
  38. ^ Yahoo! Music UK review at the Wayback Machine (archived April 5, 2005)
  39. ^ Mars Volta, The - Frances the Mute(Vinyl, LP) at Discogs
  40. ^ Frances the Mute: 4xLP information

External links[edit]