Frances the mute

Every so often an album of exquisite beauty lands in my lap. Last year the Arcade Fire rocked my world. Those fine Canadian folk sure knew how to serve up a generous helping of sweet melodies with a Talking Heads ear for rhythm.

And now we have the Mars Volta and their latest release, Frances the Mute. These American lads have attitude to burn and deliver music, as my flatmate said on the weekend, “for not relaxing.” Well said, son. The Mars Volta is the new skin and bones of post-rockers, At the Drive-In, described by Rolling Stone as “five young men ever pushing against and beyond the limits of physical and emotional endurance with crusader zeal.”

Frances the Mute continues in this grand tradition. Combining elements of Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis-era free jazz, Brian Eno ambient doodlings and a bunch of extended tracks crossing multiple genres, this album is the ultimate head-trip. Every song is like a journey along a road filled with Badlands-type characters.

The band’s first LP, De-Loused in the Comatorium, was on similar lines but their latest is more ambitious and attains a state of musical paranoia – the twilight-zone of performance – that suggests the boys are not content resting on any laurels.

I remember seeing the band at the Big Day Out a few years ago. My companions looked confused during the set, and so was I at times, but overall we marvelled at the band’s outstretched finger to convention. They were deafeningly loud, mellow and then back to the original volume. Not easily forgotten, in other words.

If you only buy one album this year, you should get out more often. But Frances the Mute – so named for reasons best left unsaid – is unlike much else out there at present. Have a little faith in the adventure.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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