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19 July 2009

Art Zoyd - 'Syphonie pour le jour du bruleront les cities' (Cryonic, Inc.)

1980 is an odd year. A friend of mine has this theory that 1980 was neither part of the 70's nor the 80's. He would argue this if presented with any photo, of anything, from 1980, pointing out how fashion was in this weird in-between period (specifically citing sleeve lengths, I think) and popular music felt similarly stuck between the dying throws of disco and the new-wave identity still being worked out. It stood alone. This is all horseshit I heard over a plate of baba ghanouj about 10 years ago so I'm probably misquoting it, but it stuck with me. After all, what are we to make of this weird Art Zoyd record from the same time? Weird, because it's not all that weird. It's intense and theatrical but you'd expect that; there's synthesisers but playing fairly conventional, and second fiddle to dissonant string glissandos. It's Lois Vierk taking out the washing, tripping on 'Masques' weird trumpet improvisations and floating up on tightly composed chordal platforms, like the ones in old Nintendo Mario games that raise and lower on their own, making you time your jumps just right. Though we're assaulted with 'crazy' vocalising as soon as we drop the needle, most of this record is instrumental. Dark, yes; cloudy, sinister, like the backgroup to The Crow II, yes; but strangely it's not even a little bit laughable. Prog's excesses, even to fans like me, have to cause you to grin sometimes, but this feels more pitched on a neoclassical needle than the wizards and Tarkus-things so commonly derided. Maybe it's just the inherent Frenchness causing some distance for me. But this is what I've always associated with French prog - it's no less technically impressive than its British or Italian counterparts, but it lacks that Dionysian edge. These guys are serious and they find excitement in their compositions - because there are surprisingly few 'solos' here. The rebellion is maybe against the freewheelin' flaneur, savoir faire, je ne sais quoi stereotypes we have of the French - these guys are les seriouxes. The 1980 sound is in the production - it's loud and close, with almost no percussion and a glassy sheen on everything, anticipating later 80's treatment of synths and guitars but not quite there yet. And this is supposedly Rock in Opposition but it sounds more like punchy chamber music to me.

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