Frances the Mute

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The Mars Volta toes a thin line between intriguing storytelling and overwhelming absurdity with this 77-minute monstrosity of a concept album. Revolving around “abandonment and addiction” abstracts (direct from singer Cedric Bixler), this is a fractured, convoluted yarn with almost poetic references to rape, child abuse, drugs, regret, murder, evisceration and family loyalty. Sure, the first half of “The Widow” sounds crisp on the radio wedged between Audioslave and Breaking Benjamin, but the rest sounds like the entire “international” section of a music store tossed into a blender with Led Zeppelin, Yes and King Crimson. The 30-minute-plus “Cassandra Geminni” truly is the song that doesn’t end, but creeper “Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore” unwinds into a splendidly morbid coda. Lyrics are graphically descriptive while remaining vague to the album’s dysfunctional family-based themes, and the music sprawls like free-form electric jazz. The end result is a jagged mess of haunting atmospheric sequences welded to panic-stricken musical movements, all led by Bixler’s shrill wailing. Is it brilliant, or just overindulgent? Start at “difficult” and take it from there.

Gary Blackwell writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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