Atoll — Musiciens - Magiciens
(Musea FGBG 2100.AR, 1974/2004, CD)
by Jon Davis, 2005-09-01:
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.
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