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(61 min, Galileo)
TRACK LIST: 1. Astrodelica 4:57 2. Le Cheval de Nebuleuses 11:21 3. Il a Neige sur Pluton 5:51 4. Le Songe du Surfeur D'Argent 5:40 5. Ici 6:51 6. Au Domaine des Trois Collines 11:25 7. Un Petit Empire 9:43 8. Rideau 5:40 LINEUP: Dominique Barboyon - keyboards Xavier Le Loupp - guitars Eric Vedovati - vocals Loic Consolin - basses Thierry LesAffre - drums With: Christian Decamps - vocals
Prolusion. French quintet EX-VAGUS was formed in 1995, and during the next four years the group were occupied with perfecting their performing skills. "Ames Vagabondes" is their third full-length studio effort, following "Par Dela les Legendes" (2001) and "Seconde Lumiere" (2004), both of which are heralded in the CD press kit as Rock Operas. Ex-Vagus often play live in their motherland and are in particular known for their joint performances with some popular Prog Rock units, such as Ange, Focus, Barclay James Harvest and Ars Nova, amongst others.
Analysis. So - as for "Ames Vagabondes", the same press kit defines it as a sort of progressive Rock & Roll. I can't share this opinion. It doesn't meet my understanding and contradicts my personal perception of the album. Overall, this is quite a typical product of French-school Art-Rock, though the concept of a one-man Rock Opera seems to be applicable to it as well, particularly because vocalist Eric Vedovati has a genuine operatic voice - no matter that his singing as such (very emotional and expressive, by the way) fully suits the traditions adopted in theatric Symphonic Progressive. While listening to the CD I hear some echoes of Mona Lisa, Ange, Marillion and Genesis here and there, but it would be erroneous even to call Ex-Vagus followers of any of those bands, let alone their imitators. Only one of the album's eight songs is, say, infected, while the others are blameless almost like innocents - sure, not counting features that are generally common to the genre and French Art-Rock in particular. There are no weak numbers on "Ames Vagabondes", though they differ in the richness of their musical content or, if you will, in the level of their progressiveness. Astrodelica (4:57), Un Petit Empire (9:43) and Au Domaine des Trois Collines (11:25) are excellent in every respect. What most of all distinguishes the first two of these from most of the other tunes is their abundance in intriguing multi-layered arrangements whose diversity brings to mind some of the best examples of fully-fledged vintage Progressive, yet without associations with any factual heroes of the epoch (Period, indeed!). Exactly these, Astrodelica and Un Petit Empire, are my favorite tracks on the disk, as they have all the elements that draw me Art-Rock at its best - bright precipitous movements, changing tempos and instrumentation, deft mood shifts, massive string arrangements, classical-like interludes with the involvement of acoustic guitar, organ and piano and so on. Both are also notable for their inventive riff work in places, whilst on the other tracks the guitar riffs play mainly a supporting role, accentuating the chord changes etc. Au Domaine des Trois Collines is woven predominantly of atmospherically symphonic patterns, but this track possesses a lot of its own virtues, plus having a really stark beauty about it. Rideau, Il a Neige sur Pluton and Le Songe du Surfeur D'Argent each combine tendencies typical of both classic and neo manifestations of Symphonic Progressive. The former is the most theatric - Eric Vedovati's hour of triumph, in a way. This amazing chameleon singer at times reveals some really unusual vocal acrobatics here, and seems to be generally happy having the opportunity to show all the possibilities of his flexible voice. These three are also strong songs, but somewhat lacking in the complexity and variations that are the hallmarks of the two described first. The one that finds Eric sharing the leads with Christian Decamps of Ange, Le Cheval de Nebuleuses is that one derivative opus which I've already dropped hints about. The music is for the most part both slow and atmospheric, remaining transparent even at its heaviest moments, resembling something halfway between Easter from "Seasons End" and the title track of "Afraid of Sunlight" by Marillion. Only about three quarters of the way through, the tempo and mood shift up to a more frantic pace, now sounding very much like Mona Lisa. It needs to be said that the vocalist doesn't shine with originality on this cut either, his singing reminding me strongly of a cross between Fish and Mona Lisa's Dominique le Guennec - only with some operatic feeling in addition. Finally Ici, which is penned by Mr. Decamps, is soft ballad-like Neo, the music being slow and reflective throughout.
Conclusion. I can't say that "Ames Vagabondes" is one of those universal creations that would equally suit the tastes of all kinds of Symphonic Prog lovers. But as long as it is viewed within the Neo category, this is a remarkable album - on a par with the latest offering from No Name, "4". Recommended to the corresponding circles, especially to those into French theatric Art-Rock, fans of Mona Lisa, Versailles and the like.
VM: November 5, 2006
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