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

Seaprog 2018 Artist Announcements Raise Festival's Profile – Seattle's Seaprog festival has been going since 2013, and the 2018 edition features a slate of artists that's sure to bring more attention to the event. Cheer-Accident, Bubblemath, and Free Salamander Exhibit are in the first round announcement of performers. In keeping with their tradition of focusing on regional artists, they will also present a number of artists from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. [Edit: Just added: Inner Ear Brigade] » Read more

Adelbert von Deyen RIP – Word reaches us that German electronic musician Adelbert von Deyen has died. His recorded legacy reaches back to 1978, when Sky Records released Sternzeit. Von Deyen, who was born October 25, 1953 in Süderbrarup, was also known as a painter and graphic artist. » Read more

Didier Lockwood RIP – Word reaches us today of the death of one of France's great jazz musicians, violinist Didier Lockwood. His playing bridged many worlds, from traditional jazz to fusion to progressive rock, and his talent can be heard on recordings by Magma, Clearlight, Pierre Moerlen's Gong, and many more. Lockwood was 62. » Read more

10 Years of Fruits de Mer - The Incomplete Angler – Those of you who are faithful followers of Exposé will know that we have been promoting Fruits de Mer and its side labels and releases from nearly its first year. Now music journalist and author Dave Thompson has written a book chronicling the past ten years as a celebration of this milestone. » Read more

Tom Rapp RIP – Singer / songwriter Tom Rapp, best known with the band Pearls Before Swine, passed away on February 12, at the age of 70, after a battle with cancer. » Read more

Previously in Exposé...

Panzerballett - Panzerballett – In my mind I picture the dancing of tanks — the cover art helps. But the only dance I can imagine is a slow, clumsy, brutish affair, most unlike the quick, dextrous, sophisticated music I hear....  (2008) » Read more

miRthkon - Vehicle – Stylistically, miRthkon covers a lot of ground. Led by guitarist/composer Wally Scharold, the band features twin guitar, bass, drums, sax, and clarinet on most songs. The album is a primarily...  (2010) » Read more

SBB - The Rock – Last time we caught up with SBB (New Century, from 2006), mainstays Józef Skrzek (keyboards, bass, vocals) and Apostolis Anthimos (guitar) had world famous drummer Paul Wertico (Pat Metheny,...  (2009) » Read more

HyNGE - Weekend @ 911 – HyNGE are a band to watch out for. On this EP alone (the title refers to the recording studio these tracks were laid down at), they demonstrate an impressive talent for inventive instrumental...  (2000) » Read more

Electric Diamond - Electric Diamond – Electric Diamond is a trio of keyboards (piano and analog synths), lyricon, and violin. The music is all instrumental, and ranges from analog synth renditions of 13th and 14th Century dances to...  (1996) » Read more

Listen & discover

Print issues