Exposé Online banner

Atoll — Musiciens - Magiciens
(Musea FGBG 2100.AR, 1974/2004, CD)

by Jon Davis, 2005-09-01:

Musiciens - Magiciens Cover art

I always thought of Atoll as being the number two French symphonic rock band in the 70s, after Ange. Like Ange, they applied the ideals and techniques of progressive rock to French culture and came up with something unique. Also like Ange, they tend to be very dramatic, especially in the vocals, which are sometimes spoken or whispered. But Atoll are probably more accessible to the non-French listener, with a sound that is a little less divergent from the British pioneers like Yes. They released three classic progressive albums and, struggling to find their way in the musical landscape after the advent of punk rock, one forgettable attempt at more commercial fare. After a truly solid debut as a five-piece in 1974, personnel changes resulted in a six-man group that recorded what is generally regarded as their masterpiece, L’Araignée-Mal, a stunning work full of great compositions, interesting sounds, and varied moods. The addition of violin acts as a wonderful counterbalance to new guitarist Christian Béya, whose technical prowess often propels the band in the direction of jazz fusion.

Turmoil following the second album led to the loss of the violin, and as a streamlined five-piece, the band made a conscious decision to move away from the fusion elements toward a more symphonic sound on their third album. Tertio was the first Atoll I heard, and remains a special favorite, though I give L’Araignée-Mal a slight edge in quality. By this point, the band is quite accomplished at their unique version of the genre, with an energetic rhythm section, lots of Mellotron backing, and great guitar work, both on chording and solos.

When it came time to record their fourth album, the band found themselves in a climate no longer friendly to complex symphonic music, and like many other progressive bands, sought to maintain relevance by simplifying their music. The result, Rock Puzzle, still has some progressive elements either woven into the songs or as uneasy interjections within them. The arrangements often feature a horn section in awkward counterpoint to the guitar and keyboards. It doesn’t always work, but it’s no more embarrassing than the efforts of other prog bands of the time. As a curiosity, this CD includes three tracks the band recorded in 1981 with John Wetton for a project that never got off the ground just before he joined Asia.

These reissues provide a welcome spotlight for one of the great bands of the 70s. For those who already own any of these on CD, the sound is greatly improved, with the previous Musea discs sounding muffled by comparison – Tertio is especially improved. The bonus tracks (particularly on the first album) are the exception: the live recordings still sound tinny and distorted, but they are easily enough ignored.


by Mike McLatchey, 2017-03-09:

When I think back to when I started to get into European progressive music, it was not just the music that caught my ear, but a lot of the artwork, and I've always really liked Musiciens - Magiciens and I dare say it probably had some level of influence on my own art. This title, like the Asia Minors, was reissued pretty early by Musea back when I was young, poor, and with a smaller collection where I ended up playing things a lot more often, and this was one I played to death in the 90s. Like most people, when the sonics get muddy I'm usually out, but I actually fell pretty hard for the four bonus tracks that were added to the reissue. There was something about this first lineup of Atoll that really added a kind of cosmic and mystical level to what was obviously a highly Yes, Genesis, and Ange-inspired debut, and I'd take it a little farther and say these guys were probably also listening to the Grateful Dead and others of that ilk, especially based on the live feel of the bonus material. The music was generally based on a lot of big keyboard chords and there's a huge atmosphere to the music as well as a solid sense of naivete in the musicianship that would be gone by their next, more fusion-based release. Over half the songs on here I almost know by heart, especially the solid stuff on side 1 and the early parts of side 2, and I do wish they'd done studio versions of the live track or two towards the end. This album is almost part of my personal, musical DNA and if it could easily be argued that their second and third releases were more mature and studied, this one will always be my sentimental favorite.


Filed under: Reissues , 2004 releases, 1974 releases

Related artist(s): Atoll, André Balzer

More info

Latest news

2017-10-13
Moonjune to Distribute Tony Levin's Back Catalog – It has been announced that Moonjune will now handle distribution for Tony Levin's catalog of releases. These great albums will now be a bit easier to get hold of, so check out the site and see what you're missing. The veteran of King Crimson and Stick Men worked with a host of great players on these albums, and we've reviewed most of them over the course of the years. » Read more

2017-09-26
Bandcamp Shines Light on Niches We Like – Bandcamp has developed into one of the best places to discover new music, and even a lot of old music is showing up there. In addition, their staff has been producing periodic articles spotlighting some interesting stylistic areas. On 20 September, they published one called "The New Face of Prog Rock" which bears checking out. » Read more

2017-09-06
Holger Czukay RIP – Holger Czukay, a musical experimentalist without boundaries who has been involved with expanding the sound palette of rock music since the late 60s, has died at the age of 79. After studying with Karlheinz Stockhausen in the early 60s, he became fascinated with the possibilities of rock music, and was a co-founder of the pioneering group Can. He leaves behind an impressive body of work both as musician and producer. » Read more

2017-08-22
John Abercrombie RIP – Another of the greats of jazz guitar has left us. John Abercrombie plied his way through a beautiful series of albums on the ECM label as well as bringing his talent to bear on albums by many of jazz's greatest artists. From his early work in the group Dreams to Gateway and outstanding work with Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, Kenny Wheeler, and many more to his own trios and quartets, he brought a unique instrumental voice to the world. » Read more

2017-07-27
Yestival Dates Beef up the Beat – Word reaches us that Dylan Howe (son of guitarist Steve Howe) will be joining Yes on their "Yestival" tour, drumming alongside longtime band member Alan White. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Djam Karet - The Heavy Soul Sessions – Over the last four or five years, Djam Karet has gone through some evolutionary changes. Gayle Ellett has switched from guitars to primarily analog keyboards, and a fifth member Mike Murray has been...  (2011) » Read more

Hedningarna - 1989-2003 – Readers of this magazine have likely noticed over the last few years the fondness that several on the staff have for artists on the NorthSide label, with Hedningarna consistently getting good reviews....  (2004) » Read more

The Muffins with Marshall Allen & Knoel Scott - Loveletter #2 "The Ra Sessions" – What does one get when The Muffins mix it up with two great sax players (Marshall Allen and Knoel Scott) from Sun Ra’s Arkestra? That’s right, not two – but four sax players, plus...  (2006) » Read more

All Over Everywhere - Inner Firmaments Decay – I really wanted to like this one. It’s keyboard-heavy symphonic rock with female vocals, with some good ideas in both composition and arrangement. But after listening to it in a number of...  (2011) » Read more

Lands End - The Lower Depths – Remember Lands End? They were part of the 90s West Coast prog revival, though it’s been eight years since their last release, Natural Selection. Now they’re back with a double-disk set...  (2007) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues