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TRACK LIST: 1. Saltariello 3:49 2. Volubilis 7:01 3. Louez Son Nom 7:31 4. Voyage-I 7:30 5. Deux Amis 7:00 6. La Ribote 3:15 7. Atlas 6:41 8. Icarus 6:04 All music & lyrics: by the Payssan brothers. All arrangements: Minimum Vital. LINE-UP: Thierry Payssan - organ, synthesizers, & string ensemble; vocals Jean-Luc Payssan - acoustic & electric guitars, mandolins; vocals Sonia Nedelec - lead vocals Jean-Baptiste Ferracci - lead vocals Didier Ottaviani - drums Eric Hebeyrol - bass Co-produced by Vital Music & Musea Records. Engineered by the Payssan brothers at "Vital Music".
Prolusion. "Atlas" is the sixth studio album by the remarkable French group MINIMUM VITAL and is the eighth one, counting those that the band's main men, the Payssan brothers, released under the vehicle of Vital Duo (see discography below the review). There is mention in the CD booklet that the lyrics on the album are purely imaginary. By the way, I was always certain in that, although I've been told by one of my friends that their lyrics are in Breton. (Breton is a dialect spoken in Brittany, the province of France located in the northwest of the country in the vicinity of the English border.)
Synopsis. To all appearances, the band's imaginary lyrics just have a Breton dialect as their basis. In any case, the language is very melodious, and my ears:-) enjoy it almost as much as they enjoy English. (I mean, in the context of Rock music, while Italian, and also French and Spanish, is better for opera.) By the way, Minimum Vital is a very inappropriate name for this band, isn't it? If I were in the Payssan brothers' shoes, I would have certainly called it Maximum Vital. So, "Atlas", released five years after the band's previous album, "Au Cercle de Pierre - Live", and only several months after Vital Duo's second outing, recorded in a wonderful small chapel and released only on DVD, for some reason. As in the case of "Esprit d'Amor" (1997), Sonia Nedelec and Jean-Baptiste Ferracci sing mostly as a duet on "Atlas". Here, however, it's the man who is mostly at the foreground of vocal parts, and not Sonia (whose voice and way of singing I love so much). In that way, the overall vocal palette of "Atlas" is closer to that of "La Source" (1993), although there is no female singer. On the other hand, the creation within the framework of Vital Duo was not in the vein for the Payssan brothers, and this effort is much richer in folksy medieval colors than any of the preceding Minimum Vital albums. Being, on the whole, more complex than that on the band's previous studio outing, the music on "Atlas" is about something average between "Esprit d'Amor", "La Source", and Vital Duo in general, though the factors, mentioned in this and the previous sentence, don't apply to the last two tracks here. Featuring too few vocals to be considered a song, the album's title track (7) represents a high-quality, by all means outstanding Symphonic Art-Rock in its purest form. Down to the very last minute, Icarus (8) is also free of any stylistic makeweights. Both compositionally and stylistically, it's like a very simplified version of its predecessor, and while being good rather than bad, is, nevertheless, the most monotonous thing the Payssan brothers ever crafted (most likely impromptu, straight in the studio). The album would have sounded not only more coherent, but also properly concluded without it. Especially since La Ribote (6), going before Atlas, is an instrumental piece, too. However, I have slightly different thoughts on the matter. Each being twice as short than any of the remaining four tracks, the said instrumental and the song Saltariello (1) are done in the same direction as those, but being compared to them, seem like the purely instrumental and the vocal-based part of the same song, just separated from each other. Well, these are maybe insignificant particularities, and nevertheless, the four longest tracks on the album: Volubilis, Louez Son Nom, Voyage-I, and Deux Amis (2 to 5), are the winners, as they are brilliant in every respect - both vocally and instrumentally, each possessing some magic moments. The music is an amazingly unique blend of full-fledged Symphonic Art-Rock and Folk Rock with a lot of purely acoustic textures, created by the parts of acoustic guitars, mandolins, and varied percussion instruments, and a strong medieval feel throughout, especially in vocally instrumental arrangements.
Conclusion. Due to the presence of classically diverse and large-scaled instrumental parts on most of the tracks here, many people will certainly find "Atlas" better than the previous studio album by Minimum Vital. As for me, I find their new effort definitely a masterpiece, at least overall. Nevertheless, I think it is a bit inferior to any of the band's earlier albums, including "Esprit d'Amor", which, while being the most accessible of them, is simply filled with musical magic. In all, Minimum Vital is certainly one of the best and most significant outfits on the post-seventies' progressive scene, regardless of some music critics who belittle their latest creation without any serious investigation of it and, thus, without any real trumps to make their opinion sound both convincing and fair. Don't miss the opportunity to acquaint yourself with this brilliant ensemble.
VM: May 14, 2004
DISCOGRAPHY: "Envol Triangles" - 1985 "Les Saisons Marines" - 1987 "Sarabandes" - 1990 "La Source" - 1993 "Esprit D'Amor" - 1997 "Au Cercle de Pierre: Live" - 1998 >"Ex Tempore" - 2001 (as Vital Duo) >"Le Jardin Hors du Temps" - 2003 (=) "Atoll" - 2004
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