The Mars Volta, "Frances The Mute"
Since The Mars Volta is a rather strange name for a band, it will be easy to define the group's sound. It's weird. But "weird" doesn't give the five-piece group enough credit.
For those listeners who are accustomed to intergalactic sounds, "Frances The Mute" will definitely meet their expectations for The Mars Volta's light-speed musicianship. However, for those of you that are usually turned off by a song that lacks repetitive beat, 4/4 measures and pop sensibility, Mars Volta's frantic and progressive noise will burn your ear. The band's music is as concussive as bottle rockets, and any moment of ambiance on the album will prove to be deceiving because all five members of the Volta are more impulsive as musicians than they are improvisational, and that is a rarity in rock 'n' roll.
The singer, Cedric Bixler Zavala (formally of At The Drive In), has no restraints in his high-note singing and cannot avoid comparison to Rush's Geddy Lee. For being a singer who holds his own in the high notes, he has a flexible vocal range in his octaves and self-harmonies, much in the same way that Robert Plant was able to make his vocals work strangely with the Led Zeppelin great "Whole Lotta' Love."
The guitar work is hyper-galactic and experimental with a classic-rock vibe intertwined with futuristic effects, hence the use of the word "Mars" in the group's name. The drumming is certainly one of the band's most essential counterparts, for the rarity of a 4/4 rhythm makes for a rather complex and hard-to-replicate furiousness. Think Ritalin percussion.
Besides being a journey through different realms of human consciousness and sound, "Frances The Mute" is at times a calamity. This record will make your parents want to throw down their Barry Manilow records and kick down your bedroom door and ask, "What in the world that racket is piercing their ears from your stereo?" but if you don't live with your parents, then you have nothing to worry about then, right? So feel free to bump this album.
When the Mars Volta got started, the band initially toured with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so it is no surprise that John Frusciante and Flea provide some of their talent to the new album. Flea plays trumpet on the songs "The Widow" and "Miranda that Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore," performing solos much like the ones that he had contributed to Incubus' "Movement(s) of The Odyssey."
Frusciante contributes two guitar solos on the Cuban-jazz fusion masterpiece "L'Via L'Viaquez," a song that shows that Mars Volta is not only musically diverse but also bilingual. And if you can find time in your busy lives, check out Handsome Boy Modeling School's album called "White People." The Mars Volta does a really cool song with RZA of Wu Tang. The Mars Volta will soon be a household name in rock 'n' roll after this release, and "Frances The Mute" is sure to be one of the greatest and strangest albums of 2005.
Jack Johnson, "In Between Dreams"
It's rather difficult to do a critique of a band or artist when they haven't really changed their sound or direction from previous records. Is there no room for growth? Pretentious musicians need to be stopped!
OK, OK, Jack Johnson is not pretentious, and he has chosen to stay true to his sound – as redundant as it has become. "In Between Dreams" is definitely a very good album, as far as quality and quantity are concerned, but music emulation is dangerous when it comes to allowing for an artist to grow and develop with the changing times.
"In Between Dreams," is a slow and steady, 14-track rendezvous into Johnson's beach-house jams that have not changed pace since the day he began his musical endeavor.
"Sitting, Waiting, Wishing," the first radio single, is a poppy and catchy song about Johnson's patience – or impatience for that matter – in a relationship, and the feel-too-good song "Banana Pancakes" sounds like it belongs in a Special K commercial. "Constellations" and "Breakdown" are Johnson's best tracks on "In Between Dreams."
"Constellation" is a slower, more somber approach to Johnson's usual, formulaic, major chord and hip flow. "Breakdown," is a cool, summer porch-chillin' jam and was also a song that was used on Handsome Boy Modeling School's album "White People."
The version of "Breakdown" that was on Handsome Boy Modeling School's record came out a few months ago and featured an electronic hip-hop beat, DJ scratches and some other cool background sounds. But that version of "Breakdown" gave a false impression that Johnson might be trying to take a more experimental route on this new album. On the "In Between Dreams" version of "Breakdown," the song is simplistic and mundane compared to the version on the hip-hop compilation.
Johnson may be staying too close to his soft sound, and that may not help in broadening his audience to those who may not enjoy his beach music. Perhaps not enough credit is issued to Johnson, however. He is a cultural icon despite his musical emulation, and vanity and celebrity are not a part of Johnson's persona. So in that respect, please keep recording new music, Jack!
Ultimately, the happiness that may seem overindulgent on "In Between Dreams" is just consequent of Johnson's love for surfing and beach lifestyle. Check out Johnson's surf-trippin' DVD-documentary called "Thicker Than Water" if you like either surfing or Jack Johnson. Just don't expect him to raise his voice to a scream or pick up an electric guitar anytime soon.