Frances the Mute

Frances the Mute
Frances the Mute
Studio album by The Mars Volta
Released March 1, 2005
Recorded July–October 2004 at Avatar Studios, New York
Genre Progressive rock, experimental rock, jazz rock, psychedelic rock, Latin rock
Length 76:57 (CD edition)
77:19 (triple vinyl edition)
Label Gold Standard Laboratories, Universal, Strummer
Producer Omar Rodríguez-López
Professional reviews

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The Mars Volta chronology
Frances the Mute
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 progressive rock band The Mars Volta released in the US on March 1, 2005. Though not as commercially successful as De-Loused in the Comatorium, it received considerable critical praise. The album displays a deep jazz influence while infusing Latin flavor into many songs, as well as utilizing many of the dub, ambient and electronica influences and techniques experimented with in De Facto and Omar Rodríguez-López's solo projects in order to create one cohesive composition divided into many tracks. Originally to be titled Sarcophagus,[1] 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.[2] 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"[3] and the album was named as one of Classic Rock's 10 essential progressive rock albums of the decade.[4][5]



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. Ward was in the process of completing it at the time of his death.

Writing and recording process

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,[6][7] and several parts of "Cassandra Gemini" previously appeared in "Cicatriz ESP" performances (as heard on Scabdates).

Rodriguez-Lopez 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] Rodriguez-Lopez 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 centrepiece of the album, 32-minute "Cassandra Gemini", the middle section of which was edited from the long jam session.

Tracking this way had a mixed reception in the band; Theodore and bassist Juan Alderete responded to the individualistic approach while keyboard player Ikey Owens didn't like it at all. But, as Rodriguez-Lopez 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."[10]

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 his horn skills to "The Widow" and "Miranda...". "L'Via L'Viaquez" featured Omar's childhood hero, salsa pianist Larry Harlow, while "Cassandra Gemini" had Adrian Terrazas-Gonzales (who has since become full-time Volta member) on woodwinds. All the tracks also included full string and horn sections, arranged by David Campbell with the help of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez.

Release history

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 10,000 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]


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 band's musical influences are more prominent; the guitar solo on "The Widow" seems inspired by classic rock, and much of the album has a psychedelic feel to it. Perhaps because of inspiration from such Pink Floyd albums as Meddle, 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 be made by Omar in front of the house where he used to live with Cedric and Jeremy[13]), while "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" begins with 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 Cedric Bixler-Zavala's voice and synthesizers.


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.

Track listing

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. Many fans consider the additional song "Frances the Mute", found on the single for "The Widow", as part of the album and place it first in the running order, before "Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus". Oddly enough, the track ends with the "Sarcophagi" motif filtered through what sounds like radio static, which serves as a transition into the first track of the album proper.

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 39 seconds of coquí noises that conclude "L'Via L'Viaquez"; this small portion is indexed separately from "Miranda".[15] 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.[16]

Original track listing

All songs by Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala.

No. Title Length
1. "Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus[note 2]" (Sarcophagi / Umbilical Syllables / Facilis Descenus Averni[note 3] / Con Safo) 13:02
2. "The Widow"   5:51
3. "L'Via L'Viaquez[note 4]"   12:21
4. "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" (Vade Mecum[note 5] / 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

[note 6]

CD pressing

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

Japanese bonus DVD

"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

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

Side One
No. Title Length
1. "Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus" (Sarcophagi / Umbilical Syllables / Facilis Descenus Averni[note 3] / 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. "[unlisted coquí noises]"   0:39
2. "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" (Vade Mecum[note 5] / Pour Another Icepick / Pisacis (Phra-Men-Ma) / Con Safo) 13:09
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





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


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


  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. ^ Latin for "Swan"; it is also a constellation.
  3. ^ a b c Latin for "The easy descent into Hell".
  4. ^ a b "L'Via L'Viaquez" was misprinted as "L' Via L' Viaquez" on the back and in the liner notes of Frances the Mute.
  5. ^ a b c Latin for "Go With Me". A Vade Mecum is also a handbook or something always carried on a person.
  6. ^ The official track listing lists Vade Mecum, Pour Another Icepick, Pisacis, and Con Safo as apart of Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore, but only Vade Mecum fits in the amount of time listed for the track. The lengths of Pour Another Icepick, Pisacis, and Con Safo, added to the lengths of Tarantism, Plant a Nail in the Naval Stream, Faminepulse, Multiple Spouse Wounds, and Sarcophagi, the parts listed for Cassandra Gemini, equals the total length of Cassandra Gemini. This is a CD printing error.


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