The Mars Volta - Frances The Mute
Reviewed by Graeme on 29th March 2005
I like the Mars Volta, I really do. At least I think I do. I was a big fan of At The Drive In as well (and was lucky enough to see them on their sole major label tour before they split), and regularly pour suitable amounts of scorn in the direction of Sparta fans (you know they deserve it).
I’ve seen the Mars Volta a fair few times, most recently a fortnight ago, but I have yet to really give this record a chance, because I’ve became very apathetic towards it all. Perhaps it’s because of all the rampant fanboyism of the band, particularly by people who’ve clearly never heard a Can record in their life (now that’s hypocritical irony!), or maybe it’s just all that pop music I listen to rotting my brain.
Either way, I have little to no interest in actually sitting down and listening to this record, so instead I’m going to put it on, and for every five minutes of play, I will actually listen for one minute. Deal? Excellent, we shall begin:
00:00 - 01:00
Music: An “ironic” acoustic guitar lament bursts into some jaggy looping acid rock. Singing sounds distinctly Spanish.
Sounds Like: A Captain Beefheart outtake, albeit a half-decent one.
05:00 - 06:00
Music: A “spooky” ambient drum break with someone picking out guitar squiggles in the hope of hitting some modal jazz improvisation. No vocals.
Sounds Like: One of those bits at a Spiritualized gig where they go “free jazz” and people pretend to nod their heads accordingly.
10:00 - 11:00
Music: A moody post-ambient soundscape, complete with some film sample playing in the background. A simple electronic bar starts pulsing from one side to the other.
Sounds Like: Early Mogwai mixed with “On The Run” by Pink Floyd.
15:00 - 16:00
Music: An rangy ballad, with booming guitars and open singing. He’ll never sleep alone, apparently.
Sounds Like: “Televators” from the first record, with different lyrics. There's also a guitar bit stolen from the ‘Floyd.
20:00 - 21:00
Music: Some fast paced, twitchy rock - complete with a conventional time signature!. Lots of singing in Spanish.
Sounds Like: A hell of a lot like an old At The Drive In song whose name I can’t recall. Also, does anyone remember the Latin-American tinged UK no.1 “Where Do You Go” by No Mercy? You secretly enjoyed that song, admit it.
Review: 7/10 (though that’s mainly because I’m now thinking of that No Mercy song)
25:00 - 26:00
Music: A jazzy drum break, more Spanish singing - now with stereo phase effects! What sounds terrifyingly like the beginning of a drum solo.
Sounds Like: “Roulette Dares” from the first record.
30:00 - 31:00
Music: Absolute silence, save for some heavily treated speech. Oh, and birds tweeting in the background! How sweet.
Sounds Like: When they have a witness protection scheme victim on TV and their voice is “disguised to protect their true identity”.
35:00 - 36:00
Music: Some more post-ambient sound-scaping, but this time someone has added an effect like it’s a turntable speeding up and slowing down - bravo that man! Now we have a brass solo, quite possibly being performed by Flea from the Chili Peppers. This is not a good thing.
Sounds Like: Hope Of The States remixed by DJ Shadow (if you got that reference, award yourself an extra cookie)
40:00 - 41:00
Music: It’s the end of what was actually a quite good bit (pity I’m not reviewing that part, though) - now we have some bluesy brass and scratchy guitar.
Sounds Like: Bitches Brew by Miles Davis . . . you wish. Actually, I wish that too - as this is quite, quite rubbish and pretty much anything else would be preferable.
45:00 - 46:00
Music: Crikey - the random Wheel of Fortune time selection has actually stumbled upon a good bit! Wait, now we’ve got some more horrible treated vocals through a bit-crusher.
Sounds Like: For a few brief seconds, something dynamic and exciting. Then Freddy Kreuger popped up.
50:00 - 51:00
Music: Dynamic guitars, oblique metaphysical lyrics, brilliant drumming, swirling atmospherics, it’s a good bit! Praise the lord.
Sounds Like: Why I used to love this band so much in the first place.
55:00 - 56:00
Music: Oh-oh, it’s the deconstruction of the previous good section. Say no more.
Sounds Like: See the entry for 05:00 - 06:00
**To be fair, at this point we miss what is by a country mile the best section of the record - Con Safo - but who wants to be fair. If the band had wanted people to review this properly, they wouldn’t have made it three days long.**
60:00 - 61:00
Music: A jerky drum and bass segment followed by another ambient drum break with whispered vocals. I’m really losing the will to live at this point. Who the fuck produced this album and why didn’t they step in and say “Look guys, I’m feeling a problem with the general pacing of the record”? Oh wait, this is a self-produced record.
Sounds Like: Me searching for a gun. Or a bottle of pills.
65:00 - 66:00
Music: A noodling, self-indulgent guitar solo section.
Sounds Like: One million guitar loving teenagers having a wank.
70:00 - 71:00
Music: Surely this isn’t the same solo? It is? Good god. (Now with added brass)
Sounds Like: I’ve had to turn the speakers down, I was left with no choice.
75:00 - End of record
Music: Against all odds, it’s actually gotten genuinely quite good again. Fucking excellent, in fact. Though there’s a reason for that . . .
Sounds Like: Almost EXACTLY the same as the ending to the first record. Only with a reprisal of the intro guitar lament stuck on the end, just in case anyone dared hope for a positive finish.
Review: 9/10 for the main ending. 3/10 for the reprisal.
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