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François Thollot - Contact CD (album) cover


François Thollot



3.86 | 19 ratings

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3 stars Zeuhl Muzik comes in a wide variety of delicious flavours. There's the classic Magma Zeuhl: majestic, dense, many-layered, mythic. Or maybe your tastes veer more towards the wide-open, warm and embracing soundscapes offered by Weidorje. On the other hand, perhaps you'd prefer the brutal, post-modern psychotic Zeuhl of Guapo.

But then again, perhaps not. All of the above are extremely (some would say excessively) flamboyant and even Rhadamantine - uncompromising, tyrannical music that bosses your imagination around until it's quivering in a corner, compliant to the overarching might of a set of drums and a bass guitar being used in anger! François Thollot's flavour of Zeuhl is, by contrast, much subtler, much airier, much smaller and more intimate in scale; diluted, maybe, so that it is suitable for consumption by those with too weak a constitution to handle the strong stuff.

That is not to say that this is not very excellent music. Just that it is perhaps tasteful and approachable enough for your non-Zeuhl-loving friends to stomach! It is also served up in bite-size, tasting-menu portions, instead of the whole-LP-side binges common to the genre. This might be an advantage to those daunted by the prospect of gamier fare, but there are disadvantages to this format - which will become clear on our piece-by-piece tour of the album.

Performing on this album are such luminaries as bassist Philippe Bussonnet of Magma, and Daniel Jeand'heur, his colleague from One Shot, on drums. These two are extremely fine musicians, and they lend a polished sophistication to Thollot's compositions. Bussonnet's vigorous, confident playing adds a comfortingly familiar Magma aroma; and not only that, Jeand'heur's percussion style seems markedly influenced by Christian Vander - one moment a stiflingly tense, fast passage; next, it's all laid-back (and yet precisely controlled) poise.

Thollot himself contributes beautifully poignant, eloquent guitar which adds a rather romantic, melancholic air to the overall sound; he also plays keyboards (as does Jeand'heur on a few tracks).

Right: without further ado, on to the music itself.

'Ascension' starts us off in brisk, purposeful, slightly ominous fashion. There's an agreeably machiney feel, with a section featuring Present-like repetitions in 9/8 time. Towards the end, there is a brief break in the clouds, before the piece ends, a little abruptly.

The second track is, I think, my favourite: 'Histoire Triste', with its lovely wistful guitar opening. Agitated drums lead into a faster, more urgent passage with driving bass. I love the catchy guitar part, all sonorous parallel fourths. And here comes another abrupt ending! (Can you spot a theme developing here.?)

'Promenade Urgente' rings the changes - with an abrupt beginning! This piece has a murky feel and a marvellous, rudely bubbling bassline. You can sort of feel Bussonnet reigning himself in a little. This would be a great place for an utterly mad bass solo. Unfortunately, we don't get one! We find ourselves in the major key for the ending. you guessed it, an abrupt one - with an odd little bass doodle at the end.

'13e Parallèle' begins with an angular bassline and, flowing against the current of the bass, some carping guitar. (Oddly, momentarily, it reminds me of Snakefinger!!) The bass rasps away like it's shouted its way to a sore throat. And Jeand'heur is really into it by now: there's some very Vanderish drumming here at times. This piece has plenty of intensity, but I think it could withstand considerably more. At last, though, we get a somewhat more definite ending.

'Etude Plombée' sports a really lovely, fuzzy, insect-like, Zeuhl bass tone. Bussonnet really goes for it - with an impatient, peevish feel. The ending is nicely forthright, too.

'Blues du Crabe' pitches us straight into an energetic tangle in 5/4 time. There's an even growlier, more obstinate bass here. Jazzy drums engage in an elegant freak out. Liquid guitar rises above the brawling rhythm section before the piece fades out.

'Cyclopède' is leisurely, but with a hint of tension. Jeand'heur's drumming on this piece is excellent, and also really Vanderesque! It all has a feeling of immense power, restrained beneath a sort of haughty, diplomatic coolness. An eerie fade out ends the piece.

On we go to 'Léon le Hérisson': well, 'Léon the Hedgehog' to you! And the music is appropriately prickly, with jagged repetitions. After a meltingly dark interlude, it's back to jumpiness again. Jeand'heur contributes more of those precise, juddery, Vanderish drum fills. And oh no, here is yet another abrupt ending!

'Cabanon Oriental' features a fine bass opening, with a really dirty, treacly, snarly tone. The keyboard part sulks quietly via aggrieved muttering. This piece is nicely energetic. Jeand'heur certainly gives it some welly! Annoyingly, the ending is (again!) less than satisfactory - it just seems to stop all of a sudden.

Finally, 'Indéfiniment': the bass part in the opening reminds me of something - I can't put my finger on what exactly, but something. The drumming is impressive yet again - Jeand'heur has really hit his stride. Soaring guitar meets boiling tension, but the mood becomes rather breezier as the piece ends by fading out. This is something of an anti-climax, to be honest - really good Zeuhl customarily delivers a bold and blistering dénouement, rather than slipping away apologetically without saying goodbye.

And that is the problem with this album - it is full of fantastic potential, but these are all short pieces that do not allow Thollot's ideas room to unfurl and flourish. Sometimes they seem like sketches for sections of a longer work. It's almost as though he is a little too modest to impose himself on us for longer than about six minutes at a time! Whilst in life, humility can be an attractive trait, in this kind of music it's a bit frustrating! Come on, François, you feel like saying - don't be coy! I really do enjoy listening to this album - it impresses me every time I hear it - but my hope is that François Thollot will eventually do justice to his talent (which is obviously considerable). Let's hope he will return to the limelight very soon to present us with a main course of some longer, better-developed compositions. I certainly think that would be worth hearing!

In the meantime, I'll give this enjoyable selection of light and simple Zeuhl hors d'oeuvres three twinkly stars.

song_of_copper | 3/5 |


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