|by Blair Fraipont|
|Artist: The Mars Volta Album: Frances The Mute Label: Universal
Apparently, The Mars Volta, have been pegged by journalists as being a brand of progressive rock. Sound clips of early Rush or visions of Yes album covers appear in my mind. These are shortly followed by scenes of hapless stoned college students trying to prove to the non-believers that Pink Floyd's lyrics were really deep, "man." Fortunately, those images are not conjured up when I listen to Frances The Mute. That and most journalists love to make cheap, crude and unapt comparisons. The Mars Volta make music that pull from a wellspring of sources. They add their imagination, passion and creativity on top of those sources and you have a 75 minute masterpiece.
Far from what one would call a concept album and hardly as pompous as one would expect, the album's five songs do tie together. Based on an anonymous journal found by a friend, the titles are people the author had mentioned. The overall theme consists of the search for family. Yet, this never bogs down the record. Frances the Mute is more an exercise in the freedom of music and individuality.
Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus opens with eerie acoustic guitar strums which instantly turn into a bombastic free-for-all of rock, punk, and funk all displayed at fast tempos with earthshattering volume. Four and a half minutes inward there is a hesitant and squealing guitar solo playfully moving between minor chords and dissonance. The song ends with a collage of pulsating and whirring electronica and found sounds.
The record continues on its journey like this: changing mood, tempo and texture all in a matter of seconds. The epic 32 minutes of Cassandra Geminni closes with the same acoustic guitar (Sarcophagi) that opens this torrid and searching record.
The Mars Volta make thrilling music with Frances the Mute every instrument shines and soars, every sound is vital to the record. The music is best compared to the paintings of Francis Bacon: dark, surreal, violent, and wonderfully unexplainable. To learn more visit: www.themarsvolta.com
Artist: Regina Spektor Album: Soviet Kitsch Label: Sire Records
Regina Spektor is a singer-songwriter who tends to break the typical rules of songwriting. She seems to write and sing whatever she pleases. Surely there is much thought forged into the songs, but there is this overall disregard for poetic stereotypes and banality in which her attitude and personality shine through. With each song on Soviet Kitsch Regina sounds as if she is singing the song for the first time. There is something inherently childlike and fun about her approach and her performances. This may leave some listeners unamused or looking for a more mature singer. To which I say, "You fools, don't be such snobs!"
What makes her songs intriguing are the contrasts between the delicate lace-like piano playing versus the antagonistic, cynical and often brooding lyrics. For example in the song Us the bright staccato dances of her fingers backed by the beautifully swelling string quartet is contrasted with "...they made a statue of us, our noses have begun to rust, we're living in a den of thieves rummaging for answers in the pages...it's contagious."
The anxiousness of the lyrics and her singing are actually matched well by the upbeat nature of the music. In the end it sounds more realistic than if it were sugarcoated.
Soviet Kitsch is for the most part a sparsely recorded do it yourself affair. With few exceptions the album is all about Regina. The only nasty bump in the log is the cruddy, Your Honor which undoubtably would have been better as preformed by Spektor solo. Soviet Kitsch makes for excellent down-time music. I look forward to hearing more from her as she grows and develops as an artist. Learn more about Regina at: www.reginaspektor.com.
Blair Fraipont is a regular contributor to Letters from CAMP Rehoboth. He may be reached by e-mail in care of email@example.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 3 April 8, 2005