The Mars Volta
Frances the Mute
Frances the Mute, The Mars Volta’s sophomore effort, is almost a time warp. Its hammering drums, soaring guitar and falsetto vocals take listeners back to an era where Page and Plant ruled the radio. But its innovative lyrics are unlike anything rock radio has ever heard.
That’s only the beginning. While a hard-rock album called Frances the Mute would be enough, The Mars Volta has taken a genre of music popular mainly among high school boys and produced something completely new, combining elements of early metal, Latin jazz, and Radiohead.
In so many words, the album is an epic. Interested listeners should prepare for a ride more intense than even the hardest heavy metal. While the album has 12 tracks, it really only has five songs, two of which comprise multiple movements.
And it is a true album. Thanks to services like Napster and mp3 players like the iPod, the album is fading as an art form. The album’s first single, “The Widow” is actually a re-edited mix of the album cut, containing less of the chaotic jam sessions that the band made popular on their first album De-loused in the Comatorium, and more of the song’s hook.
In some ways Frances outdoes Page and Plant, especially in its lyricism. Singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala based his lyrics on the diary of the late Mars Volta multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Ward. The diary outlines Ward’s search for his biological mother. Bixler-Zavala’s chilling falsetto jumps from English to Spanish without warning.
Instrumentally, Frances nearly defies description. The Latin-Acid-Metal rock they produce is best heard through headphones. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, the band’s guitarist and producer, complements Bixler-Zavala’s voice with his own epic guitar.
The Mars Volta has drawn heavy comparisons to the band Rush, but to say this is almost an injustice to the band. Music critics and fans shouldn’t just look back, but to the future for a band that is on the rise.
– Christopher Reber
Queens of The Stone Age
Lullabies To Paralyze
To be perfectly blunt about it, Josh Homme never had a chance of topping Queens of the Stone Age’s 2002 breakthrough classic, Songs for the Deaf. Not only were the expectations for a follow-up set at super-human levels, but Homme entered the studio as a man abandoned. The core line-up fans were so familiar with on Songs for the Deaf has been all but destroyed, as tends to happen within the ever-shifting Queens collective. For starters, Dave Grohl’s high-profile stint on drums was a one-time only deal and ex-Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan left the group early last spring to make his phenomenal solo record, Bubblegum. But the most damaging departure of all to Homme has been that of bassist and co-founder Nick Oliveri, who finally became too much of wild man for even Homme to handle, resulting in the pair parting company somewhat bitterly late last spring, shortly before Lanegan’s exit.
Through all of those trials, it’s amazing that Lullabies To Paralyze is still better than 90 percent of the records put out this year, even if it feels like Homme is going through the motions for the majority of the tracks. There are some bursts of greatness that actually top the high expectations set forth by Songs for the Deaf, most notable of which is the sixth track, “In My Head.” The song is as good as any the Queens have released, even if it was passed over as a single in favor of the cowbell-kitsch of “Little Sister,” a song that, while undeniably catchy, is a prime example of the formulaic feel that plagues most of the record.
The tone of Lullabies fits the title nicely, as there is a more relaxed atmosphere compared to the band’s previous efforts. Whether that is a direct result of Oliveri’s departure or just Homme’s latest experimentation is up for debate, but the change of pace definitely takes some adjustment. And much like a real lullaby, this record could very well get stuck in your head, but if you’re at all familiar with the Queens of old, it might also put you to sleep.
– Slade Bracey