Friday, June 4, 2010


Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison is one of the forgotten gems of progressive folk and I would surely not have found this album if it hadn't been presented in the top 10 of the Progarchives. Everyone who knows the French language a bit, can understand what the general concept of this album is: the musical performance of the four seasons, plus the portrayal of an imaginary fifth season, an epic which takes the most of the total running time and is evidently the center piece of the record. Overall, the music is kept acoustically: besides the omnipresent steel string acoustic guitar and the French (!) vocals we get to hear several wind instruments (flutes, clarinets, saxophones etc.), a plucking bass guitar, some nice tape fooling-arounds, occasional electric and acoustic pianos and - which makes the LP especially interesting for me - the Mellotron. In the short pieces (Spring, Summer and Winter) we do not get to hear it at all, but the two main pieces (Autumn and the fifth season) are nearly brimmed with the infatuating sound of this cultic keyboard instrument. I didn't mention the drums until here, and this is because there aren't any to be heard here at all, except for some rare percussion.
The first piece, Vert (Green) - a collaboration of band leader Fiori and guitarist Normandeau - represents the spring and is a dreamy and mellow opener starting off with a leaping flute until the acoustic guitar and the bass guitar enter. Already at this place we can hear that the French-Canadian band is clearly influenced by the French chanson music although the jazzy electric piano which later consorts with the other instruments is somehow more reminiscent of the Canterbury scene, somehow like a mix of Caravan, Simon & Garfunkel and Genesis in French. Serge Fiori's vocals which have some superb solos in this song are always great and perfectly blend in the music; in this song this groovy flow of the vocals and vocalizations, like the acrobatic improvisations around the text, is just awesome and creates a positive and happy mood. The second half of the song consists of a jam of the soprano saxophone, flute, the acoustic guitar and the vocals - never without the tape echo effects - on a cool funky and folksy riff.
Dixie, the summer song, is the finger-picking exercise on this record (when Steve Howe does this, everyone is highly delighted, but when Fiori and Normandeau record something, this is just 'awful'). After some short vocal verses the piece, easily the fastest one of the five seasons, becomes a good-mood-jam with some swift acoustic guitar and zither harp playing (superb backing and solo!), virtuosic piano and clarinet improvisations, one of the finest spoons which I have ever heard and even a short piece of Russian folklore in the very end. Dixie may not be demanding enough for a real progger, but for me it is a superbly played Dixieland track where you cannot keep your feet still.
Depuis L'Automne (Since the autumn) is the song which touched me most on this LP and is actually a thoroughbred prog folk piece. The beginning, after some somber and creepy synthesizer sounds, attracts as little 'progressive' attention as the other two pieces, starting off gently with an intricate, picking acoustic guitar and Fiori's vocals. But already the second verse is somehow hectic, and who knows about the band's 'sovereignistic' attitude ("We wanted to sing in the street, not to be as lost anymore, pity that this is the street that we have lost") will also know that this is not going to be a singalong song: a strained piano prelude discharges into a celestial mellotron bridge with superb harmony vocals, one of those very short moments - just like parts of Genesis' Trespass - which can transport and express plenty of different feelings problemlessly. The next stanza is acoustic again, but more rhythmical and with a loping bass accompaniment while the next one contains dense, Anthony Phillips-like multitracked guitars and beautiful piano arpeggios. Afterwards the mellotron resumes full power, the restrained bass guitar keeps the rhythm (a very clever idea which saves the piece from disappearing in mist) and an echoed acoustic guitar and a superb soprano saxophone swirl around: classy and entrancing King Crimson feeling without sounding like a rip-off. A reprise of the mellotron bridge leads us to the last part, at first in a slowly crescending instrumental part where an exciting bass/electric piano-riff (does anybody remember Circles of the Manfred Mann's Earth Band?) and textless vocals turn around some simple acoustic guitar strumming. The restless coda consists of angry questioning (the same question which in the originaly poem was situated right in the middle of it) where I believe the vocals - or the harmony between the lead and the backing voice - to be very exciting.
After this masterpiece the listener gets a short rest with the winter piece of this record, En Pleine Face (On the plain face), for me the most beautiful one of the three shorter pieces on this LP. At first we hear the same melody that was also to be heard before Depuis L'automne, albeit in the higher and faster originally-sped version, played by Marie Bernard on the historic synthesizer instrument "Ondes Martenot" which is similar to the more popular Theremin and creates a floating tone. This instrument is present in the whole piece and again is the important 'spice' which makes the very good ballad become especially compelling. The can be divided into two parts, the first being a beautiful guitar-vocals part which shows Fiori's undeniable talents as a poet and songwriter ("Another turned page, what a shame for this day. Melt away the ice, or better go away, cos it's me who has fallen flat on his plain face"). The winter correlation is self-evident, and the discreet accordeon backing as well as the icy synthesizer wavering do the rest to create this chilly and cold mood. The stomping second part, with a very French accordeon solo, leaves the singer asking wistfully "Where are you, I don't hear hear you anymore, where are you?" on to the fade-out. Quite a nice ending!
Actually the year would be over now, but si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison, i.e., if we needed a fifth season, and - at least on this record - we do (-; , we still have the big opus
Histoires Sans Paroles (Stories without words), la plâte de Résistance of this record, waiting for us. This one may have the biggest prog-relation of all, an instrumental epic which is Mellotron-drenched all over. The storyline seems to deal with the isolation and reunion of a couple and the grand prom afterwards; quite interesting to express this merely instrumentally.
Again, the beginning ("L'Isolement (Isolation)) remains charming and beautiful with sea sounds, acoustic guitar and a fine arrangement for two flutes. Then secretly the mellotron and a sparkling piano appear in the background, but after two and a half minutes the mellotron starts to lead the whole piece in majestic windrows, pulverizing into a flaky, more driving and accelerating part (L'appel (The Plea)) with piano arpeggios and well-divided acoustic guitar arrangements which somehow always reminds me of the "Fortuna" part of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. But when the dissonant zither and flute lines enter at 5:04, the opus completely drifts into surreality and takes the listener into a symphonic and slightly psychedelic dream-scape, again with the mellotron as the lead stallion which leaves all the other instruments behind at 6:53. Not later than at this place the Mellotron fanatics will surely fly on cloud nine, but again the group doesn't sink down in kitsch, but goes on to a short vocal part (La Rencontre (The Meeting)) featuring Judy Richard who does some beautiful vocalizations to a romantic piano backing. The mellotron and a low-register-recorder enter again and Mme. Richard heightens her voice more and more - a very fine moment of this piece. At 10 minutes 30 the band prepares the last part of the piece, a fast, swinging 3/4-waltz (L'union (The Union)) which begins with some very fine, dissonant and mellow Robert Fripp-like guitars - in general this piece reminds me of King Crimson's Lizard - while the sea sounds of the beginning add more texture. Gradually, the acoustic guitar which virtually sounds like a harpsichord at this place, the flute, the piano and the saxophone come in and dance around this rhythm while especially the improvisations of the soprano saxophone are incredible and not short of those which Mel Collins did for King Crimson.
The big finale starts at 14:40 where Le grand Bal (The Big Prom) begins: just like in "Lizard" the piece ends with carnivalesque music, although here it isn't as strange - at least the band stops at the place where the Mellotron accompaniment starts to become quite surreal. After some new themes the leitmotif from the very beginning, played by two flutes, is also reprised in this 3/4-measure until the end.
Overall this album is a very fine one which I really like listening to. Yet, I wouldn't call it a masterpiece - on the one hand because actually very few albums are true 'masterpieces' in my book and on the other hand because the band achieves a celestial standard with Depuis L'Automne (5/5) which the other pieces cannot really maintain. The three short songs (4/5) are great, but probably a bit too unobstrusive and they don't really fit the two longtracks: the instrumentation is simpler, most of the progressive ingredients aren't to be heard there so that these songs seem like relics from the singer/songwriter-style of Harmonium's debut LP. Of course I like them very much and of course they do not do the record something bad at all, but they simply aren't real masterpieces which deserve a full rating.
Histoires sans Paroles is great all over, too; there is no minute to be critizised, but probably the overall image is a bit too 'loose' (4,5/5): the autumn track (Depuis L'Automne) touches me more - probably because it combines the infatuating soundscapes with the poetic chanson-beauty. Perhaps I also didn't listen to the Histoires as frequently as I actually ought to: I own this album about 4 months now and "Depuis" has always been my most-played song. Anyway, at this moment this are 4,5/5 points overall, and as the highest note shall be reserved for some few, really 100% perfect albums, I will give a good 4-star-rating for an excellent addition to listeners of Prog Folk (Celeste and Anthony Phillips) and Prog (King Crimson or the early Genesis). Mellotron and 'Lizard' lovers will of course love this record, and as well the others - if they do not necessarily need the "rock" in "prog" - will be satisfied. Listen to "Depuis l'Automne" and decide. :-)

Einsetumadur (

Tracks :

1. Vert — 5:35
2. Dixie — 3:26
3. Depuis l'Automne — 10:28
4. En Pleine Face — 4:50
5. Histoires Sans Paroles — 17:12

1 comment:

  1. Reading the review, this sounded intriguing, but the comparison to early Genesis, King Crimson and Ant Phillips convinced me.

    Thank you for allowing me to hear this album.


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