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Alquin - Marks CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

3.83 | 94 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars First album from this Dutch sextet (the standard prog quartet, plus two wind players), released late 72 and coming with a fairly ugly potato album artwork (although a red fingerprint graced the export (British) version), Marks is a rather pleasant surprise (at least many moments are), as it is sounding much like its own, despite a wide pot-pourri of influences and ambiances gathered a bit all over the musical map. The group took its roots in 69 in Delft (the University town between The Hague and Rotterdam), when three students began playing R&B as Threshold Fear, then slowly expanded to a sextet, recorded a single, then changed its name into Alquin in late 71 to Alquin, based on a local monastery.

The very Genesis-like guitar-arpeggio and flute intro of the instrumental Oriental Journey opens the album on an enjoyable note, the rest of the band gradually kicking in soon, before the flute veers Asian and the band passes clutches in the turbo which will lead into a great finale. A tad Canterbury-ish but mainly its own self and a tremendous opener. The following The Least You (also an instrumental) starts off a bit goofily, but calms down superbly in its second section. The Traffic-ian 7-mins Soft Royce is probably the highlight of the album, with its beautiful jazzy ambiance and constantly changing time sigs, including some bossa nova, but the short vocal bits are a bit surprising in their rawness, but the track goes on mercilessly until a fading telephone tonality draws it to a close. The Barnum track (I'm guessing it was ousted to fit those Polydor 2on1 discs) is a low-key improv piece that borders on the dissonant side with a String Driven Thing-like violin to boot. A mainly instrumental A-side contrasting somewhat with the much wordier flipside.

The 11-mins+ I Wish I Could is a slow crescendoing track where a psychedelic twangy guitar gradually speeds up over the superb Floydian organ underneath, until midway through where the rather clumsy vocals enters for a few verses with a flute separating the first, while a guitar adds some dramatics. Unfortunately the sung passages are over- staying their welcome and unfortunately disserving the track. The following piano and acoustic guitar ballad of You Always Can Change is not one of my fave of the album, but it does retain some charm, especially in the moody ending. As always, the Dutch try to infuse some humour in the music and here it is in the form of thunderstorm bolts that announces the instrumental Marc's Occasional Shower with sax and clarinets, while the folky Catherine's Wig has the fiddle diddling with diverse winds, but both tracks provide an unfitting close to an otherwise fine album. The Esoteric remaster has a short bonus track, the b-side of a single and obviously a wink atr their Soft Royce track and it features heavy guitar and Beefheart-style vocals. Barely in line with the rest of the album, but not shockingly different.

This album will be strong enough to have the group be part of that Dutch wave of groups ala Earring, Supersister, Focus, Ekseption/Trace, and Alquin will gain some exposure in England by playing the Grey whistle Test TV show, leading to opening some show for The Who in France a while later. Too bad this debut album will be their most inventive and their future albums will not foray further in the avenues that Alquin opened for themselves, here. Indeed the following MQ will be a flawed but good successor, but after that, the group will sporadically have moments of greatness glimpsed in this present album, but for the most will produce average pomp rock music. In some ways, this album could be assimilated to a wiser early Supersister (same producer, so that helps) but much wiser and less virtuoso. Marginally better than their second album, but Alquin remains a second division Dutch group, leaving no essential trace in their country's rock scene compared to Focus, Earring or that Super Sister.

Sean Trane | 3/5 |


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