Monday, February 1, 2021

The 2010s: Favorite Zeuhl Releases

 

1. SETNA - Guérison (2013)  Imagine the most hypnotic Zeuhl grooves that Magma has ever given us, blend it with the accumulated best Canterbury instrumentation that any of Dave Stewart's bands ever gave us, arrange it all with the most positive, uplifting chord progressions and gorgeous male and female vocal melodies imaginable, then use the best technological advantages that 2013 gives us and you get a glimpse into what Setna's second album, Guérison, has to offer. It is beautiful, sublime, hypnotic, and so spiritually uplifting! Each of the five songs is sub-divided, but, in effect, the album has a straight-through flow not unlike many Magma albums. Every song and, in fact, each sub-song has idiosyncrasies worthy of high praise and long discussions (as well as repeated listens), but "Cycle II (c)," "Tryptique I (c)," "Tryptique II (a)," and "Tryptique III (b)" and "(c)" stand out particularly strong for me--should you want to listen to a few pieces in order to get a feel for the album, these might be just the ones cuz they display quite a broad spectrum of the sounds, feels and styles offered here. The "Guérison" suite feels separate, a bit more atmospheric, more displaying of rhythms and percussion, and, until the interesting Part "(c)," a slight step down from the previous two suites (four songs, eleven sub-songs). Still, this is one of the best releases I've heard from 2013, one of the best Zeuhl or Canterbury albums I've ever heard, and an album that will likely grow in my esteem as it occupies my turntable for the upcoming months.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Yannick Duchene / vocals, mixing & mastering
- Florent Gac / organ
- Benoît Bugeïa / Fender Rhodes, piano
- Christophe Blondel / bass
- Nicolas Candé / drums, 12-string guitar, keyboards
With:
- Samuel Philippot / guitar
- Nicolas Wurtz / guitar
- Tony Quedeville / lapsteel guitar
- Nicolas Goulay / keyboards
- Benoit Widemann / Minimoog
- Julien Molko / bass clarinet
- David Fourdrinoy / vibes

1. "Cycle II" (9:52)
2. "Triptyque" (26:16) :
- a) Part I (8'27)
- b) Part II (9'45)
- c) Part III (8'04)
3. "Guérison" (14:58)

Total time 56:55

5 Stars; an unquestioned masterpiece of progressive rock music.




2. CAMEMBERT Negative Toe (2017)  Strasbourg's eccentric and eclectic Zeuhl/avant garde/RIO "ensemble" (more like a small orchestra!) have produced a sequel to their 2011 "soundtrack" to an imaginary alien space invasion. The band has matured as both individual instrumentalists and as a cohesive collective. The sound engineering is amazing--one of the best I've ever heard--and the story and even the masterfully crafted music continues to employ an extraordinarily high degree of humour. I find myself laughing and crying within the same songs as we follow the latest installment of the alien Schnörgls' conspiratorial encounters with Earthlings.

Line-up / Musicians:
Adrien Arnaud: Trumpet, percussions
Lela Frite: Voice, invocations
Guillaume Gravelin aka Harpus: Harp
Pierre Wawrzyniak aka W-Cheese: Bass, accoustic guitar
Juliette Blum: Trombone, percussions
Fabrice Toussaint aka Fab aka Slipman: Drums, percussions, arrangements
Valentin Metz: Guitars, bass
Clarissa Imperatore: Vibraphone, xylophone, percussions

1. "Orteil négatif--Once Upon A Time In The Galax-cheese" (3:13) opening with a joyful, confident announcement of the band's incredible precision, new maturity, and sci-fi story to come, percussives and staccato syncopation introduce the story before the music fades into a low, ominous foundation for the eerie "radio" communications that follow (the Schnörgls have been encountered!). Masterful intro! They've got my attention! (4.5/5)
2. "Fécondée par un extra-terrestre" (15:10) opens with 45 seconds of Zeuhl-like insistence before everything turns to a gentle Latin rhythm-based harp-based section. Cool! A minute later, it switches as other band members join in, then turns more jazzy as the horns join in during the third minute. Another shift at 3:30 presents an adorable and pretty "wuah" sound that sounds like a cute alien fart or baby burp (the birth of "El Pulpo"). When the band reunites in full force at the end of the fourth minute, it seems like the outburst is totally jovial, even celebratory. At the end of the sixth minute another shift employs long, deep bass notes, steady drums, electric guitar soloing (which is rare) and all kinds of horns and percussives interspersed. A minute later, things quite down while very delicate play from keys, xylophone, harp, and oboe (and later flutes) very slowly, very gradually build in force and volume. this is gorgeous! By the time 9:45 rolls around and the horns unite in sectional bursts we think it's culminating--but, no! Another lull while cymbals, touch-guitar chords and winds present yet another variation on the theme. This is amazing! The compositional and performance skills on display here are utterly inconceivable! Like an orchestral composition! At 12:30 there is another radical tempo and stylistic shift while woodwinds seem to be "tuning" in the background, the bass and rest of the rhythm section (which is HUGE!) gel into a very Zeuhl-like sound and style. Horns carry the melody forward while harp and vibes fast-weave beneath, just above the rhythm section. Amazing! (30/30)
3. "Gros Bouquin" (11:11) Opens with some full band chord hits before quickly settling into a funky-jazzy rhythmic sound for vibes and flutes to present a fast-paced melody. At 1:15 everything quiets down while flutes and other high winds present an airy space. Then we burst back into the bass-led Caribbean funk so that horns can have their solo time. Trumpet takes the lead for the next minute while bass and harp provide the steady foundation. Drums and multiple hand percussion play along though very much in a simplistic supporting role. The song is supposed to represent a musical rendering of the process of extracting the sexual energy from rabbits in order to empower the Schnörgls' secret weapon, the Negative Toe. (17/20)
4. "The Lament Of Pr. Frankenschn'rgl" (9:11) a slow, methodically-paced song with lots of space and lots of staccato notes produced in small, steadily paced packages from a wide variety of instruments including some from Oriental traditions. This one also has nicely arranged choral arrangements (sung in English!) professing the Schnörgl military scientist's doubts, regrets, and worries. Such a simple and pleasant song, this in great contrast to the frenzy of multiplicities that was song #2. A great display of control and restraint--both in composition and especially in performance. Mathematically I'm sure this song would be quite interesting to study. The final 90 seconds begin to exude some of the insistence of the Zeuhl world in both vocals and drums and bowed bass--and finishing off with a little crazed cacophony--which is a perfect lead-in to the next song. (18/20)
5. "Skwitch" (14:47) opens with multiple instruments contributing to a low end dominated, ominous opening. At the two-minute mark things quiet down--as if the protagonists are trying to hide or be unnoticed--while retaining the creepy tension from the opening. At 4:10 we again switch tempo while the same delicate instrumental weave re- establishes itself--this time with hand percussion, harp and vibes providing the filler. At the end of the sixth minute the music drops out leaving some very sparsely populated guitar, harp, bass, and creepy trumpet hits while a creepy monster-like human voice vocalizes noises not unlike those of the trumpet. Well into the eighth minute, the horn solo becomes far more "normal"--jazz-like--but then it is suddenly submitted to some very odd under-water- like muting effects (elephantine) while the rest of the band, formerly quiet and reserved, begin to rise up and "swallow" the trumpet within their methodic tapestry. At 9:57 everything stops. Silence. Then very syncopatedly- spaced staccato hits from a variety of instruments gives the sound and melody a stark, almost "disappearing" feel. Horns and harp allow for some feeling of return to occur. Boisterous bass-end bursts seem to be on the verge of disrupting all flow of the base-line tapestry--until they all merge at the beginning of the thirteenth minute. The final two minutes seem to be telling the story of the monster's demise and death. Overall, this is a great mid-tempo song with frequent time changes and polyrhythmic weaving of the multiplicity of instruments. Something about the mood, melodies, and intricacies of this song make it my favorite--despite the fact that it's supposed to tell the story of the future destruction of one of my favorite places on Earth, la cathédrale de Strasbourg, by a cybernetic laboratory elephant. (28/30)
6. "El Pulpo" (3:19) oboe, guitar play out a sad melody over harp and bowed double bass before vibes and horns come in to present their antiphon of support. Then at 1:25, all music fades away. Empty space is then gradually invaded by low foghorn-like horn bursts while seaside sounds and human whistling and other pseudo animal sounds are disbursed throughout the soundscape. I guess it's supposed to be the cries of El Pulpo as he and his mother escape to South America by sea-going vessel. (4.5/5)
92.72 on the Fishscales = A-/Five stars; definitely a masterpiece of modern progressive rock--though this album feels as if it belongs more on the Avant Garde/RIO spectrum than the Zeuhl they were associated with in their previous album. Great to have Pierre and company back! And mega-kudos to the engineering/production team! AMAZING sound reproduction!




3. MAGMA - Félicité Thösz (2012) Beginning like an ANDREW LLOYD-WEBER musical doesn't hurt this piece by Zeuhlmeisters, MAGMA. As 'dark' or heavy at it tries to be, the whole thing comes across more as a Dickensian Christmas play written by STEPHEN SCHWARTZ and/or BURT BACHARACH. Awesome bass play, as usual, very melodic piano and perfect drumming from founder CHRISTIAN VANDER help carry this operetta, but it is the wonderful, delicately woven vocal performances that the listener has a chance to really tune into. The lack of hard driving, mega-pulsing music and power vocals is, as a matter of fact, quite unexpected. Yes, the album is brief (by modern standards), but 37 minutes is right in line with a typical vinyl album (unless you are Todd Rundgren). Though the album is really meant to be played straight through--and I love all of the songs here--I must admit to really enjoying putting "Teha" (5:15) (10/10) on repeat ad infinitum. As a matter of fact, the first five songs all flow together seamlessly, flawlessly, beautifully. The most Broadway of all, however, is "Ohst" (4:53) (10/10) with the bouncy piano and the voice of the Maestro, himself; CHRISTIAN VANDER is brilliant, astounding! I mean, how old is this guy? Playing off of HERVÉ AKNIN, it is quite a song. Even the end is very Broadway-like--like the ending to a song from Fiddler on the Roof or something.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Stella Vander / vocals, tambourine
- Isabelle Feuillebois / vocals, bells
- Hervé Aknin / vocals, backing vocals (11)
- James Mac Gaw / guitar
- Bruno Ruder / piano
- Philippe Bussonnet / bass
- Christian Vander/ drums, vocals, piano, keyboards, glockenspiel (11)
- Benoît Alziary / vibraphone
With:
- Sandrine Destefanis / backing vocals (11)
- Sylvie Fisichella / backing vocals (11)
- Marcus Linon / backing vocals (11)

I have to admit that hearing an upbeat, positive sounding album from such masters of melodrama is quite an unexpected experience, but it is an entirely enjoyable one.

Another masterpiece? I can't see this little beauty as anything less. 5 stars.




4. GA'AN -- Black Equus (2011) The second Zeuhl release from this lineup of young Chicago-based musicians (from whom nothing has been heard since) comes two years after their extraordinary debut. (I wonder if they were in fact outtakes from the sessions that produced the previous album--the sound is so similar.) The drums are so perfect and the bass and keys stay tightly in the fold. Lindsay's wonderful voice is, as it was on the other album, mixed a little too far back for my tastes. Still, the ethereal, "instrumental" effect this gives the vocals is probably part of the charm of the Ga'an sound.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Lindsay Powell / voices, electric piano, synthesizer
- Seth Sher / drums
- Tyson Torstensen / synthesizers, bass, synth bass, electric piano

1. "Arms They Speak" (9:54) is quite a bit more rich in terms of keyboard/synth layers than the songs of the previous album but the sound engineering and the way the vocal is mixed in is quite the same. Great drumming, cool bass and layers of keys make this one a keeper despite the melodies and chord progressions not quite being up to those of the previous album. The scaled down vocals and instrumental mix in the quieter seventh and eighth minutes are sublime--great finish! Great drumming! Papa Vander would be proud! (19/20)

2. "Servant Eye" (8:35) opens with an ANEKDOTEN-like thick/heaviness. Lindsay's entry with repeating vowel/syllables is fairly quick, but then there is a stop and restart at the one minute mark--a technique the band used to great effect on the previous album. Enter Mellotron choir. The keys are, unfortunately, a little too distorted and Lindsay's vocals a little too militaristic. Another directional shift in the third minute leads to a brief passage of Lindsay's lead vocals before the drums explode into a race around the sun. Awesome in the truest sense of the word. 'tron is replaced by saw-syth--to nice effect. New pace at the six minute mark--more insistent, resolute. This then morphs into another fast race with great synth and bass work over the frenzy of flailing drumsticks--to song's end! That went by so quickly! (On my disc there is an additional minute of silence after the music has ended.) Not as good as the previous song but still at a very high level. (13.5/15)

3. "Call Of The Black Equus" (18:44) opens with syncopated pulse of a synth bass note with floating, panning synth saw within which Lindsay interjects a single LISA GERRARD-like  phrase, at first intermittantly and then nearly constantly. Drums and bell-keys arrive at the 3:05 mark prompting Lindsay to begin singing some actual lyrics--as if telling a story. Still, she is in the background, virtually yelling her words into the mix. For the second verse of her song she is accompanied by several tracks of her voice in harmonizing roles. Interesting. If the voices weren't so mirroring of the keyboard lines it might get more interesting--but, then, isn't that what the Magma choirs do: match the melodies set down by the keys and guitar? 
     The seventh minute brings something new--a kind of choral chorus--before a dirty Canterbury-like keyboard begins playing a progression of ever-ascending chords. Lindsay continues trying to tell her tale--on multiple tracks--as the drum plays beneath it all--kind of in a PHIL COLLINS way with many, many interesting fills and flourishes. Poorly mixed Greek chorus in the ninth minute before a break leads into a softer, more spacious "White Rabbit" like passage--which then gains power and momentum with the entrance of a very strong, very chunky bass and bass line. A Tony Banksian organ passage precedes another foray at support for Lindsay's plaintive vocals. Wild bass sounds in the twelfth minute precede a slow down, drop out section from which emerges an old synth, slow ascending bass line, and dirge-like LISA GERRARD-like vocal performance. LARRY FAST-like bass synth continues in the lead while drums and synth washes try to keep up (Lindsay takes a singing break). At 15:40 Lindsay's epithets are punctuated by synth and drums until 16:22 when the band kicks back into the previous fast-paced groove--this time with synth performing a melody line of descending steps. This continues until the final 45 seconds when the music blows up into whole band waves of power and awe. I don't know how to explain it. (I lack the musical terminology/language skills.) This is just an amazing song considering it came from three musicians. It may not be on the level of intensity or power of a Magma masterpiece, but it certainly has all of the elements to be one. (I imagine this song being performed with the expanded Magma lineup! Wow, wouldn't that be amazing?!) (36/40)

Total Time 37:13

I've always thought this album quite a bit weaker than the band's 2009 debut but upon current investigation, I appreciate the creative and instrumental prowess that went into this--all three of the songs. 

91.33 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music and one of the shining beacons of modern Zeuhl as created and composed by three youths from Chicago!!! 




5. VAK Budo (2018) This second release from this French Zeuhl band is very well constructed and produced. The compositions are complex and dynamic with rarely a dull moment or overly-prolonged passage and the musicians are equally up to the task of delivering this complex music in a powerful and jazzy fashion. The freshness or innovation does not go much beyond what bands Magma, Eskaton, and Ga'an have already done, but the second song, the 23-minute epic "Hquark" synthesizes sounds and stylistic elements from other related subgenres in the way that SETNA did with their 2014 masterpiece "Guérison."

Line-up/Musicians:
 - Aurélie Sainte-Croix - vocals
 - Vladimir Mejstelman - drums Joël
 - Crouzet - bass, guitars
 - Alexandre Michaan - keyboards, synthesizers
With
 - Michaël Havard - saxophones (1)
 - Hyder Aga - guitars (3)
 - Nora Froger - flutes (3)

1. "Budo" (27:28) opening with busy bass, steady drums and background keys before a jazzy chordal fabric is announced by keys and horns. Multiple keys and, later, voice and R&B guitar chord play are introduced to fill out the sound in a second section. Aurélie and Alexandre play off each other harmonically to create melody lines out of voice and synth until 3:30 when there is a slowdown bridge for a syncopation display from the rhythm section. Then we briefly recapitulate the vocal-synth melody before a stripped down section allows the bass to be on display. Keys and playful drums provide background as Aurélie enters and scats and soars á la Stella Vander. A "power chord" bridge of piggy-backed bass, guitar and keys follows before another recapitulation of the vocal-synth theme. Then around 7:15 there is another breakdown in which bass and keys offer their solos. Aurelie supports as bass and drums fall away and only provide simple, syncopated support until the tenth minute when prominent drums play beneath and within the keys. Bass is sliding up and down the fretboard, back and forth.
     At 10:30 guitar announces its turn with a couple of loud chord strokes and a deep, wailing wah-ed sound. Nice solo, nice drum play. Another thematic shift at 12:00 before keys take a Brian Auger/Eumir Deodato-like solo over a blues-rock like foundation from the rhythm section. At the end of the fourteenth minute the synth and bass get pretty creative as the drums maintain an often straightforward rock tempo--shifting into an odd time signature just as multiple saxophone (two) tracks enter with their mutually exclusive soloing. This section ends up being the most prolonged of the song as the saxes keep jamming for over three minutes--even over a thematic shift in the seventeenth minute just before the slowdown and spacious shift that leads back into a pretty Fender Rhodes arpeggio-based section over which multiple tracks--voice, synth, and guitar--present and carry forward the melody.
     At 19:30 we again shift as the Fender alone carries the music into a more cinematic section in which cymbal play is the keyboard's main companion. Eventually, by the 24th minute, drums, gentle bass, and space-guitar notes are added over the Magma-esque keyboard foundation. The weave that is slowly built is quite cool--definitely moving toward a climax. Voices, saxes, and everything but the kitchen sink is thrown into the mix before the crescendo is maxed out mid-26th minute. A long, slow deconstruction and fade is then slowly executed to reach the quiet, complete end. It's hard to find fault with this awesome pure-Zeuhl epic. Perhaps the frenzies and crescendo's do not reach the fanatical heights achieved by the Vander-Magma masters. (46.75/50)

2. "Hquark" (23:03) drum sticks, bass tom, and triangle create a rhythmic MAGMA-esque weave to open this one. Single note "horn," piano, and wordless vocals soon join in and eventually supplant the rhythmic weave sounding very much like something off of the two GA'AN albums. At 1:50 drums kick in as synths and full volume voice and electric guitar carry the song into its full form (at 2:05). Aurélie's vocals play a dominant role in the establishment of this, even as electric guitar takes a stab at soloing and the full band bursts into a section of loud power drive.
     Soft and heavy dynamic shifts seem to be the key to this one not getting stale, and this is never so well demonstrated as the first downshift that occurs at the five minute mark. Aurélie scatting wordlessly (and without consonants)--even via multiple tracks--while Fender Rhodes and very cool bass play proceed until the keyboard-guitar(and, later, -synth) weave double their speed at the end of the seventh minute. Drums and vocals increase intensity commensurately until everything slows down to a walk at the 8:20 mark. Keyboard, synth, and scratchy electric guitar solos start and duel in a crazy frenzied dance until the 10:00 mark. There follows another ominous slowdown section--even coming to a full stop at 10:32 before a pretty, gentle, SETNA-like Fender Rhodes solo initiates a new slow section over which Aurélie sings a complex melody line of "hey dah yah"s and more. The music slowly but insidiously picks up pace and intensity with drums paving the way while Aurélie's work remains fairly constant. Cool!
     At 13:45 there is yet another stoppage and slow entry of a solo Fender keyboard--this one not as melodic or autonomous as the previous one. While Aurélie and drums and bass rejoin fairly quickly, the rebuild is quite slow and protracted. Aurélie's repeating pattern reminds me of Amanda Parsons' work with National Health.
     In the eighteenth minute an entirely new groove is established with bass and drums sounding, in fact, a lot more like the aforementioned NATIONAL HEALTH than Zeuhl founders Magma. Even the keyboard solo is more Dave Stewart--though the backing guitar and bass work is definitely Zeuhlish. Fender Rhodes gives way to synth while complex rhythm section and a more in-the-background Aurélie provide the foundational support. This is easily the most sophisticated section of the song. By the end of the twenty-second minute we are fully and firmly back into the land of Kobaïa--and this is how the song flows to its end.
     The middle section of sparsity with keys, bass, drums, and lone female voice treading softly for several minutes is, I have to admit, my favorite part. I love Aurélie's more loose and melodic "lead" vocals as well as the the Fender Rhodes theme here. I think Aurélie unique talents are much better put to use--"set free"--here than on "Budo."
     Overall, this is another great song--creatively and skillfully melding several styles and influences from within and the fringes of Zeuhl World into something engaging, interesting, and definitely begging for repeated listens. I like this one better than the opener--probably because of its expansive inclusion of other styles as well as the greater range, freedom, and prominence in the lead capacity given to the vocalizations of Ms. Sainte-Croix in the first two of the three middle sections. (47/50)

3. "Au fond des creuses" (8:19) opens slowly with a slow bouncing Zeuhlish Fender Rhodes chord sequence accompanied by simple drums and bass while Aurélie sings her vocalise. The tempo and intensity pick up in the middle of the third minute. Again, I am quite reminded of Chicago's GA'AN's two 2011 releases. At the five minute mark a cool guitar and Fender Rhodes weave sets up support for the entry of solo flute. This is very cool! But, alas! It ends all too quickly; at 6:30 we are back to a slow, plodding section--though this one is heavier due to the guitar's "power chords." The song then softens as it deconstructs toward the very delicate Aurélie Sainte-Croix-led end. (17.5/20)

Total Time 58:50

92.29 on the Fishscales = A/Five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. It is so difficult for me to find fault with Zeuhl music because it's usually so well-constructed and takes such instrumental prowess to render. Plus, there often seems to be present an underlying emotional and even spiritual component to this music. I think of the recent UNIT WALL, PioL, CORIMA, and even this year's PinioL and ALL TRAPS ON EARTH albums as other examples of this fact. Perhaps this subgenre is the pinnacle--or synthesis--of all that is best about progressive rock music. The wordless vocals of Aurélie Sainte-Croix are awesome and so very welcome--they're as good as another lead instrument--and yet I feel that they have not yet been fully liberated--that they are not yet realizing their fullest potential. Perhaps in future releases!?





6. DAI KAHT II 

What if SANTANA or THE ALLMAN BROTHERS played Zeuhl?!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Osmo Saarinen / Drums, Percussion, Vocals
- Roope Pelkonen / Keyboards, Effects
- Ville Sirviö / Lead Guitar, Voice, Effects
- Atte Kemppainen / Lead Vocals, Bass, Percussion, Guitar, Keyboards, Drums, Effects
With:
- Tommi Ruotsalainen / Rhythm Guitar, Voice
- Nina Suokko, Ella Kärnä, Samuli Aihos, Henna Naukkarinen, Mari Pääkkönen / Choir

1. "Hanshin" (4:17) a true Zeuhl intro--complete with vocal narration! But then we shift into drive and pick up an ALLMAN BROTHERS feel for the next wild minute. That bass is moving a million miles an hour--and in a Disco cadence! Choir enters over the next ALLMAN BROTHERS section giving it a kind of STYX feel. Heavily effected synth-guitar solos in the fourth minute before we return to the AB motif to finish. (8.75/10)

2. "Dai Korönenn" (7:57) again, what if THE ALLMAN BROTHERS played MAGMA Zeuhl? The band plays very tightly. In the fifth minute, it moves into more of MOTORPSYCHO territory before subtly flowing into KOENJI HYAKKEI. I love the Klaus Blasquiz imitation in the seventh minute! Then it just gets crazy. (13.25/15)

3. "Helvet Sttroï II" (4:31) moving more into true Zeuhl territory, (even using a language very close to Kobaïan), the choir chants here are a little off but still have a very interesting echoed-staccato effect. (Intentional?) At the end of the third minute we move into a more spacious section that kind of lulls you into a safe place before wild, slashing synthesizer notes enter. (9/10)

4. "Willargh" (8:23) opening with a very pretty, slow, and pensive weave, the music gradually builds until at 1:40 we reach the transition point at which we move into a march-like cadence with male group chanting. This is followed by some rather sedate electric guitar riffing before we move back into the march-and-chant section again. After this the rhythm section moves almost into a Rasta beat while the fuzz guitar solos. A little interlude for a bass solo, and then we fly into the full-speed race to the end--with a slight delay and downshift before more ALLMAN BROTHERS influence begins to exert itself. Wow! (18/20)

5. "Zöbehr-Daï" (11:44) MOTORPSYCHO! At the 3:20 mark the guitars go into a kind of "Schindleria Præmaturus" riff while the rhythm section keeps up a jazzy foundation. A party-like cacophony enters during the sixth minute just to spice things up for a bit, but then we settle back into the Fish-like pattern until some voice samples throw everything off again. At 7:15 we shift into some Viking-like macho chanting before the music takes off at a sprint--as if running away from the Vikings. But, no! They're in pursuit, despite the laser shots from the soloing synth in the ninth minute and the loud power chord play from 8:45 to 9:15. A kind of JC Superstar lull precedes the blows of the start of the final battle at 10:00. (If that was a battle) it is quick and decisive as a heavenly choir of angelic voices seems to show the result before the brief high octane celebratory finish. (17.75/20)

6. "Wehr Mahrü" (5:37) captures amazingly well that menacing, frantic feel that underlies everything MAGMA seems to do. The slow build in the fourth minute is amazing! Hammond Organ solo before returning to the out of control pace and feel to finish. It's got me into a frenzy! Wow! What a ride! (10/10)

7. "Möa Orgata" (12:48) the CAMEL/SANTANA school of Zeuhl with the ZA! vocal choir! Awesome! Even throw in a little DICK DALE and ALLMAN BROTHERS sound/feel in the second half! (22.25/25)

8. "Hertz Kömatt" (5:56) crazy and frenzied in a Zappa-Captain Beefheart kind of way--especially the vocals. Wild and theatric. Not unlike the Eastern European-influenced work of HUMBLE GRUMBLE or FARMERS MARKET. (9/10)

Total Time 61:13

90.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of upbeat and frenetic guitar-dominant Zeuhl. Great vocal performances and use of choir and chants.




7. CAMEMBERT - Schnörgl Attahk (2010) Wow! AltrOck Productions just can't miss! Yugen, Ciccada, SKE, Kurai, and now Camembert! Music is alive and well, people! And with great production all around! Refreshing, mesmerizing and, in the case of Schnörgl Attahk, humorous and upbeat. Horns, harps and tuned percussion all jamming with and off of one another! This is one group I want to see live! Haven't been back to Strasbourg since 1979 but, who knows? Maybe in the next couple of years?!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Vincent Sexauer / electric guitar
- Bertrand Eber / trumpet, didgeridoo (4), cowbell (7,8), voices (3,6-8), whistle (3)
- Fabrice Toussaint / tenor trombone, xybraphone, congas, tam-tam, triangle, percussion
- Guillaume Gravelin / harp
- Pierre Wawrzyniak / bass, acoustic guitar (4), voices (6,8)
- Philémon Walter / drums
With:
- Francesco Zago / electric guitar (3)
- Julien Travelletti / bass trombone (3,5,7,8), tuba (7)

1. "Infinicheese" (1:35) (5/5)
2. "Clacos Zero" (0:35) (5/5)
3. "Untung Untungan" (11:13) (20/20)
4. "Clacos 1: Notre Mêre à Tous" (1:58) (5/5)
5. "El Ruotuav Ed Sram" (8:16) (20/20)
6. "Clacos 2: Die Experimente Von Dr F Frankenschnörgl" (0:48) (5/5)
7. "Le Meurtrier Volant" (9:01) (18/20)
- La Danse du Chameau (17:51) 
Unfortunately, the 5-part suite which ends the album, entitled "La danse du Chameau" doesn't succeed in conveying or evoking this same response. (Plodding like the camel for which it is named, the perfect harmony of "The Vulture of Mars" and  "Le meurtrier volant" seems long past.) (32/40):
8. "Batifolade" (5:29)
9. "Soif!" (1:17)
10. "La Tempête De Sable" (4:51)
11. "Rêveries Lubriques Sous Une Dune" (1:09)
12. "The Final Run" (5:01)

Total time 51:13

The transitional songs ("Clacos Zéro," Clacos 1" et "Clacos 2") are excellent (and often quite funny!) but the big monsters [e.g. "Untung Untungen" (11:14), "El ruotuav edsraM" (8:17), et "Le meurtrier volant"] are incroyable! I listen to "Untung" and "ruotuav" (Vulture from Mars) over and over and find my body and spirit reacting quite the same way I did upon first hearing MAGMA's MDK a few years ago: avec une danse joyeuse, sauvage et frénétique! It is wonderful! The pause at the halfway mark in "Untung" is so startling and such a letdown, yet it's so exciting when the music returns and builds and builds, jelling and spiraling its way in perfect collaboration up and then down to a stop--it's just like a rollercoaster ride! And one can just feel the morose, Poe-like tension of "Le meurtrier."

In the vein of its inspirateur, GONG, the band puts forth some jazzy jams, but, also like GONG, IMHO, the jamming seems a bit pointless--or ecstatic and masturbatory--depending on one's psycho-neuro-chemical state. For some reason, the band seems to have mostly abandoned the wonderful collective weaves of the amazing first 30 minutes of the album. Too bad. That was quite a ride!


91.30 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. Sheer freshness, enjoyability, and perfect sound production of its compositions.




8. PiNioL Bran Coucou (2018) It's all the rave, combining two bands--this time two well-respected avant garde trios from France. The result of all the hype and anticipation is highly entertaining, mind-bogglingly complex, if sometimes a little drawn out and formulaic. I hear a lot of SONAR-like Math Rock in this music, despite the amazingly fun and surprisingly fitting made-up language (a Zeuhl version of Japanese?) vocals. The first half is highly engaging and then it gets a little old.

Line-up/Musicians:
Antoine Arnera (PoiL) - Keyboard, vocals
Boris Cassone (PoiL) - Bass, vocals
Guilhem Meier (PoiL) - Drums, vocals
Anthony Béard (Ni) - Guitar, vocals
François Mignot (Ni) - Guitar, vocals
Benoit Lecomte (Ni) - Bass, vocals
Jean Joly - Drums

1. "Pilon Bran Coucou" (14:02) controlled chaos. It's even melodic and highly engaging! And what musicianship! (27.75/30)

2. "Pogne" (7:15) odd time signature with some catchy melodies and wild fake-Japanese-Zeuhl vocals. It's awesome! (14.25/15)

3. "Mimolle" (4:29) avant even math rock in its rhythm section, the tremolo picked guitar in the opening section speaks "Post Rock" a la MONO, but then things go totally Avant Math Rock in the second minute. As it builds and wails into a frenzy, the music just sucks you in (instead of repelling). (10/10)

4. "Sh' Shin" (14:37) is this song just a Hamiltonian set up for an American swear word? (MF/WTF) (Who knows if the pseudo-Japanese is also of a similar extraction and meaning?) (25.5/30)

5. "François 1er" (9:11) the bonny king is an historical favorite of mine, so my first listen to this comes with expectations: (It better be good!) Slow, sliding tremolo guitars pan across our listening horizon before synth, basses, and drums enter and establish a slow methodical rhythm track. At 2:30 a guitar steps forward as a "lead" instrument--but it's all SONAR-like Math Rock weave. (Though I hear SEVEN IMPALE and KARNIVOOL in this song as well.) Maybe I've been spoiled by the opening song, but this one feels too sedate or as if it never gets off the ground--they just keep testing the engine and special features/apps. (17/20)

6. "Kerberos" (6:05) the band has gotten too tight and too formulaic--the subtleties and idiosyncracies (other than a few belly laughs and xylophone sounds) are all but absent from this one. (8/10)

7. "Orbite" (12:05) slow and very sparse for the first four and a half minutes, it's not until the nonsense pseudo- Japanaese vocals enter that something really interesting begins to happen--and even then it's minimal progress. At 6:20 we finally get some power, some force, some energy and emotion as bass and guitars bash out some heavy chords and metallic arpeggi. I'm reminded of something from King Crimson's Red/Starless period, but this is a little too drawn out. Still, it is better in the second half. (21.25/25)

88.39 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. Adventurous as it begins, it becomes a bit too formulaic and predictable.





9. KOENJI HYAKKEI Dorhimviskha (2018)

How could one not be impressed with a Koenji Hyakkei album? The musicianship is so virtuosic, so clean and crisp, the compositions so complex and unpredictable. The first listen is always jarring and sometimes abrasive, but it is with repeated listens (and familiarity) that one begins to enjoy (and dance). Still, there is a lot of stylistic variety on display here--many Western and non-Zeuhl influences tapped into--it's not just one straightforward Zeuhl-fest.

Line-up / Musicians:
- "Ah" (Yamamoto Kyoko) / vocals
- Koganemaru Kei / guitar, vocals
- Yabuki Taku / keyboards
- Komori Keiko / sax, clarinet
- Sakamoto Kengo / bass, vocals
- Yoshida Tatsuya / drums, vocals

1. "Vleztemtraiv" (10:18) though still aggressive and technically amazing, this song gives one the feel that the band is trying to move back closer to the Magma model of Zeuhl (except for the seventh minute, that is). I love Yoshida's use of the snare (a second snare?) with its snare wire disengaged. It's like he's playing the part of filling holes in the music. Incredibly tight vocal scatting to follow/mirror the blistering sax play. Amazing (and different) Hammond organ play in the final two minutes. Impressive song! True Zeuhl. A top three song for me. (19/20)

2. "Levhorm" (9:12) going deep into the South for some Muscle Shoals Bayou Blues. Now this is different. Singer (Koganemaru Kei?) even sounds like she's trained and singing in African-American English. And then she scats at Mahavishnu speed in tandem with the clarinet! Impressive though not my favorite. (18/20)

3. "Zjindhaiq" (7:32) opens in militaristic march form, slowly speeding up till the end of the first minute when it restarts, settling into a fairly sedate (for Koenji Hyakkei) and straightforward pattern and cadence. Then the third minute throws us a polyrhythmic curve before settling back into the more linear groove. Interesting space synth and male soprano vocal thrown into the fourth minute--it's almost pretty! Sax and tenor male take over at the end of the fourth with piano and drums providing a steady accompaniment. The fifth minute remains harmonically pleasing despite some complex craziness added by the guitar and Terry Jones female voices. A little more Ork-like aggressive at the end of the sixth minute before returning to a more straightforward female opera singer-led finale--a finale of disintegration. I actually really like this one--for both its humor, beauty, and "contained anarchy"! My second top three song. (What a show!) (14/15)

4. "Phlessttighas" (6:22) more syncopated, stoccato in form, there is a very familiar American jazz feel to this one, despite it's lurching jerkinesss. Like 1970s Chick Corea. There are even some repetitive motifs that could turn into "sing-a-long" ear worms! Doesn't quite climb to the heights or craziness of the previous songs, but still great. (8.75/10)

5. "Djebelaki Zomn" (9:49) full band weave with choral vocals and lead female vocals more buried in the mix than on previous songs, panning guitars and pounding piano chords with more straightforward rock-style drumming and lead clarinet and synths tell me this one is going to impress. A little harder to engage with--there is so much going on!--I am trying to pay attention to so many individual and machine gun delivered elements! In the fifth minute we shift gears into Autobahn speeds while Yoshido's hollow snare bangs away beneath searing rock electric guitar solo. After a little bridge, we are delivered into a classic jazz piano solo--complete with jazz bass walks and stylish jazz drum play! Then, in the seventh minute, we turn a corner onto a side street in order to regale at the large window dressings of the shops there. Everything seems to slow down into slow motion here though soprano sax and female vocalese continue scat-soloing above. Electric guitar and sax join up to blister away a solo section as the car turns back onto the highway to play chicken with the cars driving the wrong way (or are we?) until the lights go out. (We must be dead.) Cool song. (18.5/20)

6. "Palbeth Tissilaq" (6:09) with harpsichord-sounding guitar built into a slow, French-sounding weave, we are treated to Ah's controlled and beautiful operatic singing. Piano jazz solo follows as rolling bass, percussion hits, and strummed acoustic "harpsichord" guitar accompany. This is pretty jazz lulling us into hypnotic ease, until we are suddenly jarred to awakeness in the fourth minute by a full-on rock assault--Hammond organ in the lead. I loved the "soft" lulling parts but feel that the rock assault in the final two minutes does nothing special--sounds too much like KH just trying to be abrasive (for no reason). (8.75/10)

7. "Dhorimviskha" (11:47) For the first time I feel that female vocalese and sax are not on the same page. Piano-guitar chord play at foundation are a bit rudimentary for KH standards--as is the crazy-but nothing-special guitar solo in the third minute. The new motif established at the end of the third minute works well--has a very Russian-Magma feel to it--even if it is more simplistic rock than some of the earlier songs. These radio-friendly themes continue to the mark to the six minute mark. Then drummer and pianist take a turn into time signature oddity before letting the music strip down and "fall apart" (unravel) into kind of free jazz. Yoshida really gets to show off in this section. Don Pullen-like piano play in the eighth and ninth minutes is reacting to the odd time sigs and syncopation hits as the singers vocalize their parts with extreme melodrama as if acting in some ancient Greek tragedy. Music gradually and insidiously slows down as if the thespians are enacting a nightfall scene--but then they rally for one last burst for the final 15 seconds. I love it! My final top three song. (22.25/25)

Total Time 61:09

It becomes obvious to me that I favor the longer, more complex and diverse songs of this album. They also seem much more theatric, which, apparently, I like. There's a Monty Python-like humor and intelligence in this music that I really connect with and admire.

90.21 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of jazz-rock-infused high energy Zeuhl.





10. CORIMA Amaterasu (2016) Wonderful modern Zeuhl with very strong presence of classical, jazz, and folk themes and instrumentation.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Andrea Calderón / violin, vocals
- Paco Casanova / keys, synths, organ, vocals
- Patrick Shiroishi / saxophones, guitar, glockenspiel, vocals
- Ryan Kamiyamazaki / bass
- Sergio Sanchez Ravelo / drums

1. "Tsukutomi I" (6:44) starts out quite pretty then gets downright kelzmer! Yet, this is good, modern Zeuhl! (9/10)
2. "Tsukutomi II" (10:36) opens with some gentle foundation music supporting a nice soprano sax solo. (19/20)
3. "Tsukutomi III" (2:31) the finale of the three-part suite almost sounds like an overture from a late-1960s Broadway rock opera--heavy on the Hammond. (4/5)

4. "Amaterasu I" (3:45) Zeuhl classical piano?!! (9/10)
5. "Amaterasu II" (3:31) slowed down and spacious but just as ominous with violin, saxophone and female voices mirroring each other. (9/10)
6. "Amaterasu III" (4:53) again presents the Klezmer sound masked in JANNICK TOP/UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA- like female and male vocals. (8.5/10)
7. "Amaterasu IV" (2:34) sounds like it could have come straight off of a 1970s JEAN-LUC PONTY album! Great drumming. (8/10)
8. "Amaterasu V" (6:12) very standard Zeuhl in the Magma tradition (8/10)
9. "Amaterasu VI" (8:02) which is then continued in the album and suite's final song. (12/15)

86.5 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent example of 21st Century Zeuhl and of progressive rock music in general. It's so difficult for me to not like the intense spiritual feelings evoked by true Zeuhl music like this. This is the best Zeuhl album of 2016 that I have heard.




11. UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA Mathematical Mother (2016) A welcome arrival! (It's been a while, UTO!) 2017 finds the Spanish Zeuhl masters in fine form, with some very mature, very Zeuhl-styled musical offerings (the first two) and some odd, unsettling, and, ultimately, floundering meanderings in three of the other four.

1. "Terra Cava" (14:06) I'm especially attached to the piano and voice section in the middle (what an amazing vocalist is Ana Torres Fraile!); it is sublime! The opening section is highly polished, tightly performed, with some excellent guitar soloing. The third section is bass-centric while Indian konokol or 'voice percussion' performs intermittently throughout. (28.5/30)

2. "Codice Y16" (5:21) sounds so much like a Magma opus! Piano, guitars, and voices all performing at breakneck speed with amazingly tight timing. Here we find UTO totally in the pocket, in their element, at their all-time best! Simply INCREDIBLE vocal and keyboard performances throughout, start to finish! One of the best prog songs of the year! (10/10)

3. "Elogio Del Dubbio" (7:54) perhaps a little less Zeuhl-ish while flowing more like a KOTEBEL song--at least until the Arabic vocalizations from guest singer Samia Charbel beginning at the 4:10 mark. Morphing into another stripped down, tabla-based church-like operatic vocal performance by the nearly perfect voice of Ms. Torres Fraile, the song feels suddenly so European and liturgical. Ends with an interesting though tangential instrumental section. (19/20)

4. "Architettura Dell'acqua" (11:27) begins with Ana supported only by softly picked electric guitar in an almost-pop performance. This is more akin to the wonderful Neofolk-classical offerings of countrymate Riccardo Prencipe in his CORDE OBLIQUE project releases. In the sixth minute we jump into a full band rock and then prog styled song. An uncharacteristic song from UTO and not my favorite. Still, it is better than 99% of the crap you hear out there. The introduction to the final section (before the guitar solo) is the best part of the song. I much prefer Ana's voice in the full operatic demand. (17/20)

5. "Citta' Infinite" (6:19) opens with a Latin jazzy feel with piano-based combo prepping us for Ana's entry. Vocalise with some scatting is how Ana comes in--and continues to perform for about a minute. Were words lacking, or was this composed with the intention of exploring traditional jazz realms? The synth used in the second minute and shift to more rock sounds & stylings (and use of words by Ana's sublime voice) signal that the jazz foray was only temporary. The fourth minute introduces another new style and approach: quiet, low-key singing, unusual non-ethnic musical style--and then we're off to some familiar bass riffing (from The Magus) with some play from vibes, guitar and synths over the top. Solo piano cuts in at 5:30 to end and fade out. Strange song. (8.5/10)

6. "Mare Verticale" (7:38) surprisingly simple song structures over the first two sections. It's as if the band is having trouble deciding who they want to be and so are playing it extra-conservatively. It's not until 3:25 when we finally get to hear Ana back at her most excellent voce. The music feels old, dated, mired in out-dated rock modalities and stylings. Too much of a mish-mash of mush which seems to have no direction or aim. Scatting @ 6:00 and then back to bland hard rock over which Ana tries to soar. This does NOT work. This song is, to my ears, grating; to my mind, utterly disappointing. (11/15)

In summary, the first two songs are so much stronger than the more stylistically chameleonic tapestries that make up the the final three songs; Zeuhl with Ana's powerful operatic approach are their strengths. While The Magus showed flaws in over-indulgences and sound quality issues (in the mixes), this album shows flaws in clarity of intent and purpose. More songs and music like the first two, please.

89.52 = B+/4.5 stars; a very good offering of Zeuhlish progressive rock music. 




12. VAK Aedividea (2015)

A sophomore effort from a new generation of Kobaïans from France.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Aurélie Saintecroix / vocals
- Thomas Bourgenot / guitar
- Alexandre Michaan / keyboards, synthesizers
- Juliette Drigny / flute
- Franck Varnava / bass (1,3,5)
- Joël Crouzet / bass (2,4,6)
- Vladimir Mejstelman / drums 

1. "IJKL" (7:03) more guitar-centric than typical Zeuhl. Until the final 30 seconds, this is not as interesting or sophisticated and refreshing to make it worth coming back to. (11.5/15)

2. "Aedividea" (14:02) opens with a spacey ALAN PARSONS PROJECT-like texture before electric piano, drums, guitar, bass and flute enter and define their rolls within a repetitive weave a bit before Aurélie's voice joins. A dynamics and tempo shift at the four-minute mark usher in a faster, guitar- and bass-driven section. Keys, voice, drums, and flute provide excellent reinforcement and embellishment to main theme--eventually taking over from guitar and voice in the seventh minute. This is good! The flute player tries to give it her Zeuhlish best, but, to my ears, it's just not wild and loud enough to deserve the leadership position. At 8:20 there is a stop and restart into an entirely new theme--one in which the drums get a chance to really show off. At 9:45 the vocals seem to be positioning themselves to take over the lead, but synths, guitars, and, especially, the drums are not quite willing to give her the chance. Another new motif begins in the 12th minute before melting away for a gentle guitar, Fender Rhodes, and cymbal to set up a new theme with arpeggiated guitar and bass setting the mood. Aurélie is still there, being used more to reflect the flute--to the end. Interesting! (26/30)

3. "Alzh" (11:08) opens with a kind of 1970s RTF jazz-fusion sound and feel. At the one-minute mark things shift and guitar chord play takes front and center over Fender Rhodes fast arpeggi. Eventually, flute takes the lead as things get seriously Zeuhlish (with "choral" vocals spicing things up). Even so, this is still not at the level of Magma sophistication or virtuosity. A slow down (almost "breakdown") in the fifth minute leads to a slow, plodding section that constantly feels as if it's trying to get going (despite the showy drum play) but never does. Quick key-arpeggio at 6:25 once again kickstarts this into the fast lane but, then, things feel like they're getting stuck again--until everything drops out at 7:45, leaving us floating in some kind of state of suspended animation for the next three and a half minutes as strings-like synths create a kind of background of Interstellar tension. I love this--though it doesn't feel very Zeuhl (and yet, in a space opera, shouldn't there be occasional passages just like this?) The most refreshing and innovative song on the album, IMHO. (17.5/20)

4. "Zeom" (9:49) opens with a heavy weave that has more in common with KING CRIMSON than Magma. Wordless vocals enter in the second minute adding a Zeuhlish quality, but then they fade out and we are left with a much more technical/metal sound palette. In the fourth minute flute is added and then the intensity of the music backs off a much more Carolina Prieta-KOTEBEL-like operatic voice joins in. Flute holds the foundation with a chord progression of quick-arpeggi as the rest of the band punctuates with syncopated though-coordinated chords until 6:37. At 7:45 the music takes on a familiarity to the driving music of JANNICK TOP's 2008 masterpiece of urgency, Infernal Machina.  Good stuff! (17.5/20)

5. "Ellien" (6:23) interesting polyrhythmic play between the keyboard's arpeggi and the rest of the band's weave. Drums and electric guitar also seem to go their own separate ways at times. Aurélie's voice just seems so wasted here: just another single-note provider like a flute or synth. Nice keys, guitars, and drumming on display in their soli during the fifth and sixth minutes. Bass becomes the only thing really holding this to a Zeuhl script. (8.25/10)

6. "Periscopy" (10:15) This song takes us fully into the realm of UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA as Aurélie (and her operatic voice) is finally given some freedom and room to live large within the music. Still, there is a little too much simplicity and mechanisticality in the Zeuhl formats used here. At the same time, there is, however, a feeling about this song as if the band have finally made Zeuhl their go-to music; the leads and turn-taking and commitment to background support on this song feel just as strong as those given by C Vander and his hired guns. The best and most fulfilling, complete-sounding song on the album. (18.25/20)

Total Time: 58:40

86.09 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; all in all, this is a fine addition to the Zeuhl lexicon, though this band still feels as though they are getting their feet wet in terms of rising to the mastery and sophistication of the Zeuhl masters. I'm hopeful that the final song, "Periscopy," is an indication of that step forward. 



Others Considered:




RHÙN's Fanfare du chaos (2013) This album has provided me with the nearest thing to classic MAGMA that I've ever experienced. There are also quite a few moments in which I am reminded of PRESENT and the other French and Belgian RIO artists. Heck, there are also a few moments that I swear I'm hearing the jazzy orchestral sounds of BURT BACHARACH and Hollywood movie soundtracks!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Captain Flapattak / drums, vocals
- Fabien De Kerbalek / guitar, vocals
- Thybo / guitar
- Damoon / bass, vocals (1-3)
- Sir Alron / bass, vocals (4-6)
- Brhüno / tenor & soprano saxophones, bassoon, vocals (1-3)
- Sam / alto & baritone saxophones, alto clarinet, flute, vocals (4-6)
- Marhïon Mouette / vocals, percussion (1-3)
- Emilie Massue / vocals, percussion (4-6)
With:
The Ensemble Pantagrulair:
- Séverine / flute, piccolo (1-3)
- Rémi / oboe (1-3)
- Catherine / clarinet (1-3)
- Pierre / horn (1-3)

1. 'Toz' (9:24) opens with the power and sound just like MAGMA (except for the piccolo).
The crazed saxophone and electric guitar soli and the movie soundtrack interlude at 3:45-
4:15 are a little beyond anything I've heard from Magma, but otherwise this is an awesome
song right out of Neb'hr Gudahtt's iPod playlist! (18/20)

2.  'Intermud' (2:59) is an interlude instrumental purely from the realm of classical chamber
music. Here brass and woodwinds exchange and intermingle minor and dissonant chord
structures. It is quite interesting and not as distant or depressing as the usual modern
chromatic chamber stuff. (4/5)

3. 'Dunb' (8:54) opens with a bang as multi-level and multi-layered vocals chant over the
throb of a full band of bass, military drumming, horns and woodwinds. The delicate flute-led
interlude at the 1:40 mark provide quite a contrast to the power and insistence of the
opening 100 seconds. Kind of like yang and yin, masculine and feminine. A return to power
and drive is introduced by electric guitar before a male baritone voice takes off running--
everybody else trying to keep up, fuzzy, chunky bass and soprano chorale the most
persistent. The 4:45 mark is where I'm hearing the distinct orchestral sounds of Burt
Bacharach--followed by a kind of Michel Legrand/Debussey theme. The warrior chorus
takes up their march again at 6:10 but find themselves intermittently distracted or slowed by
the soprano sirens, woodwinds, and piccolos. Interesting song! (16/20)

4. 'Bumlo' (5:32) sets into motion with a rolling bass line supported by a much more jazz-
oriented ensemble, sounding like until at the 1:30 mark the music falls away and a more
chaotic, cacophonic free-form jazz--complete with Ornette Coleman-like sax solo--takes
over. By the fourth minute the song has evolved into a more structured Zeuhl song, but this
finds itself intruded upon by an interloper from the California surfin' music of the Fifties and
Sixties! Dude can sing like Bill Haley or Buddy Holly! (8/10)

5. 'Mlues' (6:15) opens with a sustained chord straight from some Miles Davis song from
the Sixties. The evolution from there is definitely shaped by 1970s jazz fusion. I'm especially
reminded of the music of the film music for the Balck 'sexplotation' films of the 70s as well as
some of Freddy Hubbard's experimental stuff (until the male vocals enter).  The high speed
frenzy after the 5:30 mark to end is more reminiscent of some of the early hard rockers--those who later earned the title of Heavy Metal artists. (7/10)

6. 'Ih' (8:15) opens with a psych-jazz sound, a very cool, very sophisticated sound and feel
as if from a very intense scene of a 1970s murder crime film. At 2:30, as the female vocalist
and new bass, guitar, and woodwind riffs take over, the soundtrack feel continues--as if the
stealthy chase of the protagonist intensifies, gets closer to the criminal danger. The tension
only thickens with dynamic shifts from 4:45 to 5:15. Then a chaotic loud period ensues--as if
confrontation is at hand--followed by another bizarre chase scene (capture,
unconsciousness, drugged, delusional awakening, and death??) Awesome song. Awesome
mood setter. (13.5/15)

Total Time: 41:29

Definitely an awesome album of top notch Zeuhl. Papa Vander must be proud! Solid four
star effort--highly recommended for the adventurous prog lover and a real prize for the
Zeuhl lover. 

83.125 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very good Zeuhl album showing potential for future greatness.




UNIT WAIL Retort (2013) 

The sophomore album from these young and ambitious Zeuhl-meisters. The dark CRIMSONian tone is still here, but the band has cleaned up the schizophrenic soundscapes and matured quite a bit in the compositional department, employing more multiple themes per song than before. Though interesting and creative sonic explorations continue for the bass and keyboards players, not so much for Franck's lead guitar. Still attracted to shorter song formats, the band has included their first longer song ever in the finale, "Aqua Permanens."

Line-up / Musicians:
- Franck W Fromy / guitars
- Philippe Haxaire / drums
- Adrian Luna / bass
- Emmanuel Pothier / synths
- Vincent Sicot Vantalon / keyboards 

1. "Kakodeamon" (3:40) great opener! What a pace! Let's me know how these guys have grown: far more cohesive King Crimson-influenced Zeuhl. A top three song. (9/10)

2. "Peregrinatio" (4:11) kind of a continuation and variation on the opener with more synth and lead guitar inputs and more prominent "lead" bass. Mellotron is much more prominent--and ubiquitous--on these songs than on Pangaea Proxima. (8.5/10)

3. "Tertium Comparationis" (3:33) It's like that bass is talking to us! Electronica synth and Fripptonian guitars. After 90 seconds there is an unexpected quieting while TOBY DRIVER-like effected lead guitar plays some notes in the background. Then Mellotrons drench the scape as we return to the opening weave. Interesting. Perhaps this is where Toby got some of his impetus for turning back to 1980s techno-soundscapes. (8.5/10)

4. "Concupiscentia Effrenata" (3:28) sounds like a mix between OZRIC TENTACLES and some of jazz-rock fusion's more adventurous keyboard explorers (Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer, Chick Corea, Edgar Winter, Moogy Klingman). Very jazzy. A top three song for me. (8.75/10)

5. "PumaPunku" (5:35) very CRIMSON-like. (9/10)

6. "Numinosity" (4:03) surprisingly sedate and straightforward (for a King Crimson-inspired song).  (8.25/10)

7. "Agathodeamon" (4:07) love the 1970s-like harpsichord hits! Very cinematic with it's long start-n-stop first half and brief passages into fifth gear--like a car chase scene. (8.5/10)

8. "Coincidentia Oppositorum" (3:47) (8/10)

9. "Fixatio" (4:20) I still get a kick out this band's use of the "harpsichord" sound--especially when the music turns so dark and CRIMSON-like as it does here. Then there's the Jaco Pastorius tribute in the middle. (8.25/10)

10. "Aqua Permanens" (6:46) more harpsichord! More cerebral, methodic and NIL-like in its Zeuhlishness. I like the Jaco display in the middle of this one much more than on the previous song.  (13/15)

Total Time 43:07

I don't know why, but bass and drummer Adrain Luna and Philippe Haxaire, respectively, are much more tame in this collection of songs than on the band's debut. As a matter of fact, the entire album's collection of music seems more sedate and controlled (and Mellotron-dominated) than the display of wild on-the-edge  reckless abandon that Pangaea Proxima put forth. It's as if the band recorded the songs of Retort after the one night of wild amphetamine abuse explored on Pangaea Proxima.

I really have trouble rating this next to its predecessor as they are two completely different animals, wild and tamed--and yet only one year apart!

85.48 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; another very nice contribution to the 21st Century Zeuhl renaissance and a nice show of growth and maturity from this energetic, creative band. Highly recommended for lovers of Zeuhl and 2nd incarnation King Crimson (1972-5). 
 



UNIT WAIL -- Pangaea Proxima (2013)

Debut release from these heavy Zeuhlish artists from France. Thought the Zeuhl categorization may be warranted, I hear a lot of KING CRIMSON sound and stylings as well as TOE-like Post Rock. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Franck William Fromy / guitar
- Philippe Haxaire / drums
- Adrian Luna / bass
- Vincent Sicot Vantalon / keyboards
- Emmanuel Pothier / synthesizers

1. "Mesozoïc Cities" (3:22) more like Red-era King Crimson! They've got that polyrhythmic thing going on (though I'm not sure it always works). (8.5/10)

2. "Ombos" (3:39) paced a little more humanely to allow for proper brain processing, this one has some melody! (8.5/10)

3. "Télété" (2:41) drum and bass on display! Interesting use of harpsichord sound and 'tron! (4.25/5)

4. "Sargasso Sea" (4:03) atmospheric effects joined by TOE-like drums, ominous electric guitar strokes and Mellotron. (8.75/10)

5. "Outerspace" (4:57) almost European techno-dance music! Very creative synths, guitars, and bass. Great drumming--except it almost doesn't fit the mood of the rest of the musicians. (8.25/10)

6. "Humanoïd Fish From Encelade" (2:23) a very bizarre spliced-feeling purveyed by unusual sounds created by bass, guitars, and keys all played over the usual frenzied drumming. (4/5)

7. "Home of Nowhere" (4:31) slow and menacing, like a damaging walk through Tokyo by Godzilla. Awful bass solo in the fourth minute! Now this one could've used the drummer's usual wild drumming! (8/10)

8. "Magnétostriction" (2:38) angular guitar soloing over relatively slow and stable music. (4/5)

9. "Holocene Extinction" (3:35) The innovative bass sound on this catchy song is almost MICK KARN-like. (8.75/10)

10. "Shambhala" (5:15) the interplay of the Outer Limits-like lead synth sound and the wild MICK KARN-like bass sound and play definitely incurs smiles (and is impressively creative!). (8.5/10)

11. "Three Eyes" (2:23) more angular guitar soloing over a rather wide range of styles and paces (including prominent piano presence) makes for quite a multiple personality disorder. (4.25/5)

12. "Subdeath" (4:43) it does sound funereal--as if one were marching alongside Charon on one's entry into Hades. Nice use of demonic male voice in narration. (8.25/10)

Total Time 44:10

Very impressive musicianship throughout--especially from the drummer and bass player though the keyboard maestroes and guitarist are very creative. The problem comes from the gradual disconnect that I hear and feel between the music being cast by everybody except the drummer (which is very creative and spacey) and the homogeneity of the drummer's very aggressive sound and style.  

85.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an impressive debut and highly recommended listen for any prog lover--especially if you're into 1. the Red-era King Crimson style and sound palette, 2. into frenetic drum-centric music, or 3. very creative sound-making.




XING SA -- Création de l'Univers (2011)  Though I loved this album from its initial release, I think it was due to its easy access--the songs are all simply constructed and the pace is overall quite slow and spacious--but as time ran on, repeated listens have found that I am bored by an untenable sameness and lack of dynamic breadth. The concept and cycle of titular construction are very cool, but the complexity of composition and musicianship demand too little of the listener--or at least, far less than the typical Zeuhl album demands of its usual listener. The only thing about "Création" has that is on the same level as its Zeuhl peers is excellent production, the rest just doesn't compare.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Nicolas Goulay / Keyboards
- Christophe Blondel / Bass
- Nicolas Candé / Drums
with guests:
- Yannick Duchene Sauvage / Voice
- Fabien Lenoir / Chau gongs
- Gilles Wolff / Tenor sax


1. Feu 1 (5:22)
2. Feu 2 (4:25)
3. Feu 3 (3:20)
4. Terre 1 (4:03)
5. Terre 2 (7:43)
6. Terre 3 (4:20)
7. Metal 1 (6:49)
8. Metal 2 (5:13)
9. Eau 1 (7:57)
10. Eau 2 (4:34)
11. Bois 1 (1:22)
12. Bois 2 (5:15)
13. Bois 3 (3:23)

Total Time 63:46