Toboggan – Première Descente
The French avant-garde progressive rock scene is vibrant and alive, and Toboggan is one of the most recent incarnations of this desire to create something out of the ordinary. After their Démo sans mot, last year, Toboggan return with Première Descente, or “First Descent”, their debut full-length album. And, with just over sixty minutes of material, it has plenty of opportunities to take you in. The bulk of the runtime is taken by the five main compositions, which range from nine to fourteen and a third minutes in length, and which are separated by short interludes, each between one and two minutes long. The band’s sound is high in the groove and psychedelia departments, bringing the funk back in the game, but you also get a lot of the quirks expected from modern prog, so strap in and let yourself slide down this hill!
San Salvador – La Grande Folie (Pagans)
Yep, that’s another release from Pagans that I’m talking about. It’s no surprise that the Occitan label knows how to detect creative and talented projects and moves forward to support them. One of the latest of which is the vocal and percussion sextet San Salvador. On La Grande Folie, in similar fashion to Cocanha, the group reappropriates traditional folk songs and thoroughly remakes them, to the point of being utterly unrecognizable. The keen-eared will recognize “The Three Captains” (called “La Liseta” on the record), which has been turned and warped and rethought into a fourteen-minute epic consisting of multiple parts that are always changing and that are influenced by various musical traditions from around the world. I don’t think they went as far as rewriting the words, as Cocanha do, and it’s quite unfortunate if they didn’t—as some of these old songs have aged quite poorly regarding the lyrics—but either way it’s only something to hope for in the future. For now, La Grande Folie is an absolutely incredible vocal album filled with complex rhythms, ever-changing song structures, limitless energy, and a tremendous amount of memorable lines!
Taylor Brook & Tak Ensemble – Star Maker Fragments (Tak Editions)
OK, I have to say, Star Maker Fragments is a big coup de cœur for me at the start of this year. On this album, Taylor Brook‘s composition is masterfully interpreted by her and Tak Ensemble. The album consists primarily of the forty-five-minute, seven-part suite of the same name, based on fragments from Olaf Stapledon’s science-fiction novel Star Maker, to which is added an eleven-minute instrumental postlude. Taylor Brook’s compositions—as exemplified by our earlier review of Virtūtēs occultae—are complex and delightful, using a very personal approach to microtonality in order to create something otherworldly and yet familiar. These attributes truly shine on Star Maker Fragments, especially with the full instrumentation of Tak, and mirror perfectly the text excerpts, narrated by Charlotte Mundy. You start the album a regular human on planet Earth, but you find yourselves among a strange alien species, and end up a conscious, living star before exploding into multiverses. The journey is unique and wonderful; it’s best experienced with your full attention.
Simon Kanzler – Nodía es (Why Play Jazz)
I’m fairly certain you haven’t heard of a punk opera before—and no, before you even think of it, American Idiot is most definitely not a punk opera. Well, composer and vibraphonist Simon Kanzler did just that. Nodía es was released in 2020, but somehow only came to my attention this week. The work adds up to over fifty minutes of music, alternating between noisy post-hardcore riffs and rhythms and more classical-leaning passages; that’s obviously far from the more common two to three hours for a classical opera, but it’s quite enough to leave you satisfied. While it lacks the runtime of a true opera, it has an appreciable cast of characters, with a soprano, a mezzo-soprano, an alto, a tenor, and a “shouter” (this you won’t find in many opera), as well as a narrator. On top of that, the musicians are not lacking either, with the traditional rock trio as well as vibraphone, violin, keyboards, and saxophone. At times, it sounds like something out of Naked City, at others it’s more like industrial post-punk, while sometimes it sounds like pure mathcore. It’s a really interesting album. If you missed it in 2020, now’s your chance to repent.