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XII Alfonso - The Lost Frontier  CD (album) cover


XII Alfonso

Symphonic Prog

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erik neuteboom
3 stars Well, 16 tracks, performed by 14 musicians and a running time of 71 minutes, that sounds interesting. This is the debut album (1996) from the French band XII Alfonso, the inspiration is from the Hadrian Wall that was build in Northern England during the Roman Empire. Their music reminds me of the acoustic side from Anthony Phillips and the folky climates from Iona (female vocals and bagpipes), blended with delicate waves by Stephane Merlin and .. Mickey Simmonds (once from Camel fame). Most compositions are mellow but some up-tempo songs (including strong soli on electric guitar) and a wide range of instruments gives this CD a pleasant and very melodic sound.
Report this review (#51855)
Posted Friday, October 14, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars This album turned out to be a lot less than I had expected from the artwork. The songs are pleasant and unobtrusive. When Caroline LaFue is singing, I am reminded of mellow Mostly Autumn and Magenta at their simplest. The music is extremely well played,mostly because the songs are quite simplistic. The album design is beautiful and evokes thoughts of the English countryside and deep English history back to Roman times. But except for some Celtic instrumentation, it's a stretch to find the connection between Hadrians's wall and the music. The vocals are beautiful but unfortunately, only sparingly used. My major frustration with the album is that each song has only one melody/idea, which is embelleshed and worked up during the song. Usually one or two instruments hold up the melody, like the keyboard washes behind the folky accordian, or an acoustic guitar strum using three chords. There are no choruses or bridges between verses which would help maintain interest. The bass is almost nowhere to be found. The band uses every embelishment in the book - twittering birds, splashing water, even the sound of a creaky ox cart going by. Still, by the time the song is two minutes old, the melody has become a bore and one is left waiting for the end to come. Hopefully, they will have more ideas on later releases.
Report this review (#83636)
Posted Thursday, July 13, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars 'The Lost Frontier' is the first album of the French band 'XII Alfonso', led by the founding brothers Phillippe (guitars) and François Clairhout (keyboards programming), with guest musicians among them the well known French ( Britain) guitarist and band leader 'Dan Ar Bras'.The record is a concept album inspired by the 'Wall Of Hadrien'.

The album is mostly instrumental apart from three vocal tracks featuring singer Caroline Lafue and evoking 'Mostly Autumn'. The tracks are linked by sound snippets that evoke the history of the 'Wall Of Hadrien' and it's region : riding horses,roman soldiers in a tavern (?),a descent into a coal mine, a train, evoking together with the titles more or less the history of this part of Scotland.

'XII Alfonso' plays on this record a gentle form of melodic prog with celtic influences.The melodic material is quite poor, most tracks lack tension and over the top the programmed synth layers sound thin and cheasy, especially the bag pipes 'imitation' on 'Back to Northumberland'. The best moments on the record are the acoustic tracks like 'Lazy day in Haltwhistle ' or ' Another day in Haltwhistle' for solo acoustic guitar, reminding Anthony Phillipps athmospheric playing or 'Wheels of change' with a jazz influenced solo lead guitar and nice flute playing. The weakest tracks are 'Heath ' & 'Revival' approaching new-age muzac.

Report this review (#106516)
Posted Monday, January 8, 2007 | Review Permalink
2 stars Almost seventy two minutes of instrumental symphonic prog bordering to new age music is far too much for me. The use of fourteen musicians also speaks volumes about the level of ambitions from this band on this, their debut album. The lyrics about the Borders and Norththumberland district in England/ Scotland is very good. I happens to love that area and I often travels through this area. That's why I picked up this album. I like the song titles and the lyrics. The music is far too dull for me. The music is too silent and minimalistic. There are three songs here with female vocals and they are good. But the rest is not my cup of tea.

If minimalistic symphonic prog bordering to new age with minimalistic use of guitars, piano, flute and keyboards is your cup of tea; this may be something for you. But not for me. Some of the music is beautiful though and I will listen a lot more to it during the upcoming years and months. This is their debut album, they have released some other albums (including one this year) and I am keeping an eye on this band.

2.5 stars.

Report this review (#202074)
Posted Sunday, February 8, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars XII ALFONSO's story dates back in 1988,when they were found in Bordeaux by Francois and Phillipe Clarhout,Stephane Merlin and Laurent Cindicq.Between 1988 and 1992 they wrote exclusively instrumental music and they even recorded a concept album around Marco Polo's life.In 1993 they recorded their first single ''Costa Brava coast'',before visiting Scotland and UK and being influenced by the ruins of Hadrian's Wall in the town of Haltwhistle,they decide to create a concept album related with this theme.With the help of several musicians (among them Mickey Simmons and Dan Ar Bras) and singers and despite the line-up problems,XII ALFONSO release ''The lost frontier'' in 1996.

The music is pretty much laid back with scarce electric outbursts and mostly relaxed themes with an intense Celtic flavor.Their sound is pretty diverse and varied in these 16 short compositions,going from melodic electric passages to piano-based instrumentals and light keyboard-driven symphonic introductions.There is a heavy OLFIELD-ian atmposhere dominating the album with all these different instruments and influences mixed together in a generally soft progressive package.Actually the guitar work (and not only) reminds me of MINIMUM VITAL,though in a much more melodic presentation.What is quite clear are the strong doses of pleasant Celtic melodies (with some fine blending of acoustic parts with accordeon,pipes and flutes) and the tons of elegant acoustic guitars,trying to create a nostalgic climate.Notice also the ethereal female vocals,which are one of the highest points of this release.

Lovers of electric sounds will be pretty much dissapointed by ''The lost frontier''.However,both fans of MIKE OLDFIELD and laid-back but almost symphonic music will propably like this a lot.An interesting first step for the band.

Report this review (#228450)
Posted Sunday, July 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars This debut album is quite?long to listen to. It has its ups for sure, but hey! It is difficult to be fully concentrated throughout these seventy minutes of this album. After a couple of songs, I just wonder: what's the point or interest.

I can't find lots of thrilling moments in here. The whole of this album sounds quite flat, with little expression. Even the few vocal passages are not helping too much. It is just an average breakthrough. Some Hackett moments ("Lazy Day In Haltwhistle") are of course enjoyable but won't make it my day.

No great songs, no highlights, no passion. This album is just a succession of average prog tracks: decent acoustic guitar, decent keyboards, decent? you name it! But, frankly, I just expect more than decent from a professional band.

Inspiration seems out of steam after a short while and I am quite reluctant in terms of rating this album. Five of out of ten. Reduced to two stars. No more.

Report this review (#307256)
Posted Friday, October 29, 2010 | Review Permalink

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