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SKYMIND

Taal

Eclectic Prog


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Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
3 stars Definitely more of a group effort than their debut , it is also more coherent and does not wander north , south east and west. However , the whole album in one shot is a lot at once because it might be a little too homogenic.(no , it does not mean that they are destined to be gay, you wise-arse). In concert the two drummers take the front center of the stage and face each other and the other eight musician take place around them , the brass boys and girls at the rear behind the skin pounders. This is certainly good times music at times going in RIO ground, gypsy/jewish music/folk , zeuhl music and some type of jazz ( Django Reinhardt). Fun for about one hour but by the end of the concert , i was really happy to be the first one out.
Report this review (#17494)
Posted Wednesday, February 4, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars for once i'm proud of my fellow citizens doing progressive rock ! elements of jazz, classic prog, RIO; metal & even yiddish music make the picture wider and greater than any other prog band these days !!! it's like King Crimson with fun or Mister Bungle jamming with Yes... YOU HAVE TO BUY THIS ONE !
Report this review (#17495)
Posted Thursday, March 18, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars If this was considered a progressive metal album it would probably be a masterpiece, but as for an avantprog album I dont think its that inovative. Although musicianship is high there are other more interesting bands out there.

But this album is probably a great start for people who are stuck with Dream Theater and want to take their first trembling steps into the avantrock/RIO scene.

Report this review (#83672)
Posted Thursday, July 13, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars "Skymind" is the second album from French Art Rock band Taal. To my ears it is a 5 star effort. The music is complex, intriguing, harmonically challenging and original yet accessible. Not an easy feat to accomplish.

Don't look for a strong vocal presence. There is no front man like Peter Gabriel or Steve Wilson. However, the vocals that are present fit the pieces perfectly.

To get a feel of what this band is capable of I suggest listening to the tracks Skymind and/or The Egg-Shaped Moon and/or Stratus.

1. Skymind (9:53) Starting off with ominous multiple/overlapping melody and riff playing the song progresses through various textures. I have not heard a band play so well with so many different musical ideas going on at the same time in a long while. It is a remarkable piece.

2. Yellow Garden (7:37) Starting with some strong metal riffing which segues into a bit of a gypsy/pub sing- along which then transforms into some very nice lead guitar playing. The song continues to evolve through significant compositional fluctuations and rhythmic changes.

3. Blind Child (6:10) The most subdued piece. The lead vocal is done very well by a female vocalist. Parts of this song sound like a subdued progressive waltz.

4. The Purple Queen's Lips (9:48) The beginning alternates between heavy bass/guitar riffing and a sweet violin. A flute and wah-wah guitar enter the picture along with a male vocal. From then on it's a complex interchange of everything in various time signatures and playing intensity.

5. The Egg-Shaped Moon (9:08) This is one of the best compositional pieces of progressive rock that I've ever heard. After a powerful introduction the vocal appears along with some flute playing and the piece just carries the listener away through the whole musical journey.

6. Stratus (13:24) There are echoes of the Mahavishnu Orchestra along with some Middle Eastern influenced passages at the beginning of this piece. In time, a violin wails away, a somber melody replaces it and then things start to heat up. The ensemble playing here is nothing short of amazing. Things slow down for a bit of old fashioned French gypsy/jazz song styling's. The whole group of musician's joins in on the final passage which is contrapuntal playing at its finest.

In conclusion, this is an album that creates its own genre much like Jethro Tull, Frank Zappa and King Crimson. These musician's are to be commended for the dedication required to compose and play the compositions. I only hope their audience finds them.

Report this review (#87716)
Posted Sunday, August 20, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is one of the most unique albums I've ever heard. It's hard to place a finger on any one prog band that they sounds most like, but if you add up a few together you can sort of get the idea. They are something like a mixture of Larks' Tongues King Crimson + Frank Zappa + Magma +a touch of metal + French music, and a bit of middle eastern influence. The amazing thing about the strange new sound they present is that it is so accesible, but not in the least bit representive of anything poppy or catchy as their music is very complex almost at the level of that of a RIO band. It really only takes a couple spins to really get into them quite a bit.

Song by song...

Skymind- One of the heavier songs on the album. This one doesn't exactly feature singing as the singer is more of a talking/chanting level here, but the intense distorted guitar and the feel is awesome and somewhat like a King Crimson instrumental such as Red or Fracture.

Yellow Garden- This song is definentely different. I'm not exactly sure what the sound is exactly, but reminds me of a gypsy folk song or something of that sort. Theres a low voice that comes after the singer that makes up a Magma like... chorus, but not so much one. This is one of the catchier songs on the album.

Blind Child- Wonderful intro that leads into a beautiful vocal performance by a women to a sweet acoustic guitar that sounds like that guitar that comes into your head when you think of Venice, Italy. After which comes my favorite part of the album featuring when of the dramatic piano/violin parts I've heard with the girl humming along to it.

The Purple Queen's Lips- Hard to describe this song. It's not my favorite off of my album nothing really extremely special about it. It starts off loud and slows down a bit for the vocal part after some singing the violin and distorted guitar pick in, and the violin playing is sweet. They eventually slow down and build up the vocals as "The Purple Queen's Lips" is repeated over and over to lead to more of the guitar/violin.

The Egg Shaped Moon- This song is mostly great due to the long instrumental part towards the middle. It's starts off with a nice guitar riff, goes into vocal, then we've got a heavy instrumental period that goes on there for a while.

Stratus- Starts off with a bunch of weird noises that work well to build up like some introductions you might hear in other prog songs then goes into one of the most metal-like parts of the album featuring a quick bass and guitar and some nice soloing. After that all ends it turns into an Arabic piece which after a few minutes it gets to the singing and feature more dominant violin, the vocals are a bit strange, but fit well after you are used to them. It gets louder again and the violin takes over and the arabic sound comes back as it finally comes to an end.

This is my favorite modern prog album, and I hope you can like it too!

5/5

Report this review (#110085)
Posted Wednesday, January 31, 2007 | Review Permalink
el böthy
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Taal is a band hard not to like if one is a prog fan. hard indeed. They are just so full of complexity, humor, intelligent musicianship and funny French accents it's not easy to say no to them. ah, and to top it all, they are really good at it! And if that isn't enough, and if this might scare some non hardcore prog fans away, they manage to be totally accessible, it's not hard to get into them (hard is the key word people).

Skyminds is the bands second and latest album to date (hopefully that will change. soon I expect!!!) and unlike their first one it's more of a group's effort. It's also better, if I may say so. The musicianship is tighter, more focused and has more of an edge than their previous work. It also sounds more modern and richer, due thanks to the fact that there are. more instruments present (duh!).

The album starts with some static radio sounds before beginning to. change from station to station, always with a new background music until the listener is left with some (almost) trip hop drum beat. Skymind has begun. Followed by cellos and that disorientated guitar that is a trademark in Taal´s music the song begins to mutate as it goes faster and faster with every passing guitar riff. Then, it all becomes a controlled mess, Taal never looses control of what they do, it only seems like it sometimes, but repetitive listening will uncover their mysterious use of this method. The songs keeps on mutating( changing is just to clean and. well, mutating just sounds so much cooler in this case). The vocals are, in English with a veeeeeeeeery French accent that suits the music for they give it a sense of comedy already presented with the instrumentation, but with vocals it just gets better and funnier.

That's pretty much the story of all songs, but don't be alarmed, they do not copy-past themselves! Every song has something different to offer, and if I may say so, quite a lot actually. These guys really took their time here (three years in fact) to make every song as strong as possible and every note as good as the last one. Apart from Skyminds, which I consider to be their best I must mention Yellow Garden, Blind Child, The Purple Queen's Lips, The Egg Shapped Moon and Stratus! .wait a tick. did I just mention every song on the album for recommendation...? oh, yes I did! YES I DID!!!

Recommended to any Art rock, Fusion, Metal, Symphonic, Folk, Celtic, Rio, Avant Garde, Zeuhl, Trip Hop, comedian, white, black, Chinese, Turkish, Latin, young, old, married, happily married, single, swinger, Dream Theater lover, Dream Theater hater, maniac, school teacher, blogger, doctor, lawyer, constructor, architect, painter, homeless, tall, short, girl, man, woman, E.T., dancer, Kevin Costner, hungry, naked, n00b, mother. just get the damn album!!!

Report this review (#119919)
Posted Thursday, April 26, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Unfortunately, Taal are regularly, perhaps even criminally, overlooked even by Collabs here at PA. Taal's sound incorporates enough ground for just about any fan to find something they'll enjoy. The great bulk of it consists of symphonic, as can be seen by taking a glance at the instruments present on the album, and prog metal due to heavy and aggressive guitar/drum combination that's present throughout the album. Folk, jazz, and a solid helping of circus music get thrown into the array, and the manner in which the final product is formed gives this album a Avant feel though not one objectionable enough to throw off even those that have reservations against that genre. If you enjoy prog in any of its many facets, Skymind should appeal to you.

The album flawlessly swirls through all these genres without ever sounding forced or jumbled. Heavy riffing from the guitarist is nearly omnipresent throughout the album so those with a prejudice towards such a sound should be slightly wary of the album. However, I don't mean to construe it as metal. If you don't like what you're hearing at the moment from this album, just wait twenty seconds, it will be different. However, I doubt you'll voice that complaint on this one. It refreshing to hear an original sound like this from a modern prog band. If searching for original and creative modern prog, this should near the top of your list.

Report this review (#129918)
Posted Monday, July 23, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars TAKING THE RIGHT PATH

With their second effort, Taal are taking a form i really like and the pattern i think they must follow, unfurtunately we haven´t seen any other release since this magnificent album, wich i believe is more consistent than their first, becoming a more modern Prog act, but without going away from their roots, keeping their distinctive personality.

In this cd we can still hear all the streams they like to play, with many elements involved, different genres and lots of instruments, but with a coherent structure and going a bit heavier from time to time and nicely combining it with their symphonic side and their avant-garde edge.

Skymind starts with the title track, an amazing heavy tune wich begins with some electonics and violin and then poweful guitar riffs, adding some flute and soon becoming a violins/viola feast with guitar leading all the way. "Yellow Garden" starts very nice with piano and then the flute and violin appear to welcome the voice on an original (and funny) french way to later be attacked with all kind of instuments led by propulsive guitar and drums, to end with the same folky singing.

"Blind Child" is the 'mellower' track and begins with their classic piano and violin before Helen Sonnet start singing nicely compained with acustic guitar and cello to finish on an orchestral way.

"The Purple Queen´s lips" brings us back to the heavy track with the use of all the variety of intruments , with some breaks within and almost whispered singing giving the song and excellent balance, one of the best on the cd.

"The Egg-Sharped Moon" is another good example of the well achieved mixure of music styles and moods, nice smoothly distorted vocals with the very distnctive accent and a beautiful flute solo to end pecfectly the song.

"Stratus" is the longest track and begins with sound effects and then a very heavy intro, almost in a speed metal way, to slow down dramaticly into a middle-east/folkish greek melodic tune with weird vocals and sax in the third part of the song to end with the arabic feeling again.

Not a perfect album but near to get that label, and i´m sure will please most of progers, specially the ones with Metal and Avant- prog tendencies. For me is a record above 4 stars but not reaching the 'essential' tag so i´ll stay with 4.

Viva el Prog!

Report this review (#130274)
Posted Wednesday, July 25, 2007 | Review Permalink
avestin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Bienvenue au théâtre du rock-progressif

Welcome to the theater of Progressive Rock.

Creative, original, fun, complex, dynamic and beautiful. Those only begin to tell the story of this album, and yet can't even scratch the surface of an attempt to describe its brilliance.

Spell-binding. That is the effect the music Taal composes and plays has on me. It literally grabs my whole and undivided attention, holds it focused for the entire spectacle which is this album. It is pure bliss to hear the chant-like vocals in the title track Skymind as it ascends to an explosion continued by a frantic violin. It is ecstatic to enjoy the intricacies of their complex songs like The Egg-Shaped Moon. It is a delight to have the French folk sound "intrude" into Blind Child.

Being true to the spirit of past French rock-progressif, Taal's music, is an auditory exhibition; a manifest of talent, creativeness and originality; and a mélange of influences and sounds. Theirs is a truly forward progressing movement of musical search, a way to express themselves differently while using the known instruments and tools of the trade. They can play a hard edged rock theme and then switch to a light-headed tune and backwards seamlessly. They like to mingle those circus- or parade-like sounding themes, showing their happy and humoristic side, counterbalancing the seriousness of other components.

Part of the magic of the band, comes from its expanded lineup and its instrumentation. The use of saxophone, violin, viola, cello and flute alongside the conventional rock instruments adds a special flavour to their sound. It's not only the sound, but the way those instruments are used. Whether as giving a more weird or eccentric feeling, or serving as a lead role, the instruments are an imperative part of the TAALian sound. The drums as well have a very important role. Take for instance the opening of Skymind where electronic drums are used, and are then joined by the "real" drums. The combination works wonferfully, showing the aspiration of TAAL to mingle what may seem as too opposing routes. As an aside, Polisset the drummer is doing a wonderful job with the drums, giving exactly what each track needs. This can be said about all the musician here. It seems that each one gives exactly what is needed; not more and not less. There is no one major lead, no one overshadowing the others. Each instrument gets its fair share of play at the appropriate time and place.

The music itself can be of the most relaxing nature and then change to super energetic and crunchy-riff guitar lead rock; there are great guitar-violin interplays, fantastic discussions between those instruments. A carnival atmosphere in some of the songs is also evident, further accentuated by the vocal and their frisky style (Yellow Garden, Skymind). The carnivalesque and folkish elemets are also quite prominent, and the addition of a heavy guitar sound only serves to emphasize it and serves as a good contrast. This fantastic amalgam works wonderfully, and is part of what gives the band its uniqueness.

Taal manages to capture the essence of rock, carnival/circus, classic and folk (French and other) and bring it to life with their talent and vision; make it into a piece of art that is much more than its ingredients - this synergy of elements, is the beauty and magic of music. This is a band not afraid to experiment and be adventurous; but not in the sense that is found in avant-rock bands, but in the sense of looking for ways to expand their sound into new territories and yet keep it clearly TAALesque. They bring not a new wind of change to the music scene; they are a hurricane of talent. I'd compare their novelty and creativeness to that heard on Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's Of Natural History. Not only is it good; it is novel, relies on the past to create something new and is not afraid to go out there and try something new.

If I was in a band, I would wish to make music of their style and level.

What more to ask from a band? Another one like this.

4.5 stars in PA scale

Report this review (#159893)
Posted Saturday, January 26, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars The heaviness that is prominant throughout this album reminds me of SHINING's "Grindstone" record and also the band SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM. All three bands are quite unique and different from one another, yet I could see how a fan of one of those bands would like the other two as well. The heaviness is contrasted well with lots of acoustic stringed instruments for a more dramatic affect. Oh yeah, this is a concept album(don't ask me what it's about) even though the lyrics are in English.

"Skymind" opens with someone trying to find a station on their radio, it also ends the same way. A steady drum beat is joined by violin and heavy riffs.The rhythm section is very explosive throughout this disc. Vocals before 3 minutes go from a whisper to a shout. Solo violin before piano joins in. Vocals are back with riffs. It's building. Some great guitar before xylophone comes in. These themes are repeated. "Yellow Garden" opens with piano, then drums and violin come in suddenly. Vocals arrive as it calms back down. Lots of tempo changes on this one. It goes from very heavy and bombastic to almost a whisper at times. "Blind Child" builds slowly as piano and violin create an almost waltz-like rhythm. The song builds and collapses until 2 1/2 minutes in when female vocals arrive. She also plays flute on this one.

"The Purple Queen's Lips" hits the ground running as the guitar trades solos with the violin until the flute comes in. Bass is prominant as vocals arrive. Guitar and violin continue to duke it out. Some nice angular guitar before a scorching solo 2 1/2 minutes in. A good heavy soundscape follows. More great guitar after 4 minutes. Processed vocals and violin after 5 minutes.Blistering guitar 2 minutes later and also 8 1/2 minutes in. Lots of violin to end it. "The Egg-Shaped Moon" opens with a heaviness that comes and goes. Some nice bass lines a minute in as violin and then vocals join in. Check out the drumming 3 1/2 minutes in. It calms right down after 5 minutes. The heaviness is back a minute later but not for long. Vocals return 8 minutes in. "Stratus" opens with a spacey calm with different sounds coming and going until guitar comes in heavily at 2 minutes. A nice heavy rhythm follows. It calms down with violin and percussion as drums also join in. Guitar arrives 7 minutes in. It settles down as vocals arrive 9 minutes in. The tempo then starts to pick back up as tempo changes continue. I really like the last three songs on this album the best.

This didn't wow me like I thought it would. Perhaps because i'm not a huge fan of the violin, but I love those heavy guitar passages and there's lots of them. Of the 3 bands I mentioned earlier SHINING has impressed me the most.

Report this review (#160825)
Posted Tuesday, February 5, 2008 | Review Permalink
tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars The sophomore Taal release, after their stunning opening salvo Mister Green, is even more accomplished, forging new musical adventures with a rarely attempted dual drum attack (Hawkwind, KC, Allman Brothers) that is even more thumpingly percussive than ever and sharpening those precious Taal identities even further with some serious string sections. "Skymind" is a devastating journey, brutally plowing where no man has dared before, polyrhythm central with Anthony Gabard's schizoid guitar clearing the path, remindful of almost where the previous album ended in abject fury. "Yellow Garden" is more contrast laden, a roller coaster ride with early playful Zappaisms colliding head on with the harsh rhythm, bashing, smashing and ultimately trashing the arrangement pitilessly, some hysterical mid-song atmospherics verging on the paranoid and a carnival gypsy violin just to confuse the masses. An obligatory return to more jazz rock extremities flavors "Blind Child", with some wonderful dissonant passages, fueled by the now well embedded string section, forging some turbulent interludes, a sudden very French cabaret torch song with mandolin "accompagnement" and an odd circus fanfare exit. "The Purple Queen's Lips" is a stunning achievement, incorporating multiple moods, from the utterly heavy to the broodingly groovy, bestially prodded along by the pulsating rhythm. These guys do not turn on a dime but rather on a nickel, bold as lightning and swift as the wind. At times the urgency is almost like a zeuhl tornado and then out of the blue, a floating passage keeps the mood schizophrenic until the steam slowly rises beyond the boiling point. A tempestuous lead violin is twined with some weighty chugging axe work, until the valiant Gabard unleashes a sulfuric solo that leaves no prisoners in its wake. The highlight track, "The Egg-Shaped Moon" harkens back to the debut's similarly titled finale "Super Flat Moon", suggesting a different take on the same KC territory but with restrained fury this time, some efficient vocals making this almost occasionally linear, soft passages getting comfortable until the rhythm section decides to spice up the proceedings and usher in some power contrasts. Some pastoral flute keep things comfortably numb, gently escorting the piece to a soft landing. Brilliant! The disc ending epic, the 13+ minute "Stratus" (no, not the Billy Cobham classic) enlists some early atmospherics before dive bombing into some dizzying musical spaces, verging on speed-space with eerie synthesizers blazing amid shredding guitars, waltzing violins, Arabian percussion, Wettonian basscraft and some totally spell binding aural sonics. Anthony Gabard displays some incredible chops, lacerating his strings viciously with total disregard for any collateral damage. The carnival Planet Gong kookiness takes a vaudevillian bow just when you least expect it. Ah! The French, always throw in some new twists just like true gourmets. It becomes evident that Taal really enjoy finishing off albums with some stellar music and this piece is no exception. A maghrebian theme puts this stud to rest! Taal is one of the bands to watch. Part 3 just maybe completely awesome, I shudder at the thought. 5 étaals!
Report this review (#162120)
Posted Monday, February 18, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Skymind is a modern progressive opera. I found it not only very enjoyable and innovative but also that kind of prog we found only in '70, and I mean complex but easy to listen. The songs passed by and the button repeat is inevitable. The jazz-rock is combined with neo-classic music and in some places we hear the gypsy/folk guitar. When I listen The Purple Queen's Lips I like to say that this is the history of prog. Everything that need to be memorable it's written here, and makes from this song my favorite from Skymind. The opening Skymind sees the band focusing on strong rhythm rather than melody. Yellow Garden it's catchy with good short vocal intervention, Blind Child brought the gypsy spirit into and The Egg-Shaped Moon it's kind of psychedelic oriented, even with Loic Bernardeau sound like David Tibet. Stratus (Including The Little Beatle) it's built on rock-in-opposition structures, and the finishing is eclectic. The negative side is the production which sound a little bit older than it is, but maybe this was the purpose. The real good prog rock was made in '70 and Taal are time travelers.

It's very attractive! Go and buy or download it, doesn't matter

Report this review (#177776)
Posted Tuesday, July 22, 2008 | Review Permalink
Atavachron
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Taal is an extended family that holds prog ideals up and hangs on tightly, and this little orchestra's 2003 release is a testament to that. Willing and able to do just about anything, the 10-piece are high-flying acrobats who bounce with ease in and out of twisted folk, ominous black symph, cabaret, doom metal, ritualism, and psychedelic polka. Reminiscent of Floyd's The Wall but far denser and with little social commentary, Skymind is a rich and brilliant tapestry by players with a keen sense of drama and enough musicianship for three bands. Their sound may appeal to fans of Unexpect or even SGM, but Taal achieves a more diverse if less avant-garde effect and gives real meaning to the term "symphonic" with deep pools of strings, ethnic diversity and subtle transitions.

A patchwork of radio tunings begin the ten-minute title, Mehdi Rossignot's cello lingers until the group comes in one by one, the foam of Anthony Gabard's electric guitar, Sebastian Constant's light-filled piano, and seamless drumming pair Loic Bernardeau & Igot Polisset. The piece is not unlike what vintage art rockers High Tide would be doing if they existed today, and 'Yellow Garden' is a logical second movement capering with Eastern European dance but soon has more to say, more darkness, more magma to spew and ends with a fiddle and a folk dance. This leads to 'Blind Child' tributing Edith Piaf's difficult life and takes us to a smoke-filled cafe in France with war just outside the door, weaving cabaret with Bela Bartok. Wonderful, and features Helene Sonnet's flute and Gabard's spot-on nylon string acoustic. 'The Purple Queen's Lips' jumps ugly with deadly spies in every corner waiting to cut your throat, only to relax halfway through with a Floydian refrain. Big and pompous is 'The Egg Shaped Moon' jutting between layers of heavy guitar and eddies of chamber music, and a tar pit of dying creatures opens 13-minute 'Stratus' in an epic battle between a hard rock band and several alien spacecraft in an Egyptian desert, and at some point these realms meet with unexpectedly pleasing results (not to mention a haunting by Jim Morrison). Quite fine stuff, and a potentially great gateway drug to the more outrageous modern prog bands.

Report this review (#196964)
Posted Friday, January 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Excellent album.....excellent music.........one of the better examples of france's role in prog of modern times. all elements are present needed to make a good band, as well as the gel-like feel needed in a song that brings it right back to where it is supposed to be (way too many bands these days make music that makes no sense, has no tie into anything else, and basically is a collection of rythyms) Everything I like is in this album.....heaviness, good guitar work, good sounding drums and bass....other stringed instruments ex: violin family.....climaxes and soft parts... Very good addition to anyones collection, even if not a prog fan, a fan of rock should be able to appreciate this. solid 4 stars
Report this review (#259759)
Posted Thursday, January 7, 2010 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 'Skymind' - Taal (81/100)

I was recently introduced to the world of Taal through their debut album Mister Green, a melange of classic progressive styles the French act quietly delivered to the world back in 2000, without much in the way of fanfare to herald its release. Lamentably, there's every reason to believe Taal have gone their separate ways in the time since, Mister Green nonetheless struck me as the work of a band with great potential. Most of the prog rock subsets you can think of (including metal) were represented at some point on the album, with each song a new opportunity to divulge another influence. Though they ultimately struck me as window-shopping proggers in a search of style they might call home, Taal's passion for progressive music was clearly apparent in how well they could immerse themselves with each style, be it space or jazz rock, classical or folk, heady composition or avant-garde quirk. Theirs was an ambitious first undertaking, and there's merit is calling it an overlooked gem. Even so, Taal's all-encompassing approach suffered the lack of a distinctive, identifying character; this kept their music sounding like a series of song-length excursions into other bands' sounds, rather than a testament they might truly call their own.

With that preface, their second album Skymind startles me. Not only did they find themselves a distinctive sound in the three years between this and Mister Green; they managed to do so by broadening their dense ambitions to an extent unrivalled by the debut. Those, of course, being the same ambitions I thought had originally held Taal back from finding themselves in the first place. Strange things were clearly transpiring for Taal in the first years of the millennium. Skymind almost sounds like the work of a different band altogether. That's not entirely inaccurate, either. Taal effectively doubled their ranks, bringing in another drummer and permanent string section. This completely changed the game for them, and it shows in the music. If Mister Green was the work of a skilful prog rock band, Skymind is the product of a tightly-knit chamber rock ensemble, now with the scope and confidence to wield their eclecticism, but with no loss to the humour and energy of their earlier work.

I was actually talking briefly about this album with a friend last night. He described Skymind (I'm paraphrasing here) as 'classical music played by rock musicians'. It was funny, because a lot of the time I've spent listening to the album, I've had the opposite impression in mind. Regardless, this might go to show that the Taal circa Skymind is and should be judged by a different criteria as its earlier incarnation, which sounded like a prog rock band sounding like other prog rock bands. In my experience with the more eclectic side of prog, I've found it can take a long time before one can safely judge how good the music really is. I'm sure the same could be argued for all music in general, but it's especially true when bands are pushing ideas into their music like there was an 'Everything Must Go' closing sale at the Wholesale House of Riffs. Mister Green took me three or four spins before I could say I'd firmly grasped it. With Skymind, I'm seven listens in (and counting!) and I'm still hearing new things about it. It's not that Skymind is necessarily more jampacked than its predecessor; in fact, it feels as if Mister Green had quite a bit more content to wade through. The biggest change is the way Taal handled their ideas on Skymind, how they've strung them together. It doesn't feel like a rogue's gallery of prog rock styles most of us are already probably well-versed in. Their reach is as varied here as it ever was-- drawing in all between avant-metal and gypsy jazz-- but with Skymind, they became master of these influences, rather than the other way around. These compositions, however diverse they may seem at times, sound like they were written with fealty only to a style Taal were carving out for themselves. I was impressed by the skill with which they tackled each style on the debut, but it's another thing to be hearing them bring those ingredients alongside their own voice.

The biggest change, I think, that's empowered them to take charge has been the string section. Two violins, a viola, and a cello fill out Taal's newfound 'other half'. It's not unheard of that progressive rock band incorporates symphonic influences, but very rarely does a band integrate it to the point that I can't imagine hearing Skymind without the violins. They are a constant presence on the album, swirling about in a way that often compliments, and occasionally even competes with the guitars for my attention. The consonant arrangement for the string section remains the same regardless of the genre Taal are touching upon at the given time. Because the strings are so consistent in their colour throughout each eclectic shift, Skymind sounds coherent and whole.

While I don't think Taal managed to make vocals work in their style (Loic Bernardeau's tongue-in- cheek delivery sounds like a joke the listeners weren't let in on), Helene Sonnet's voice on "Blind Child" works well for the intended chanson-type tone they were going for. While vocals seem to pop up a surprising amount on Skymind, I still think of Taal as an instrumental prog band. Here moreso even than on Mister Green in fact, they carry so many of the qualities I'd attribute to instrumental progressive rock: dense, meticulously composed, and with the tendency of losing track of melody. It took a fair while longer for Skymind to grow on me relative to the debut, but in the end, Taal's second album stands a full head beyond the debut. Skymind does for me what many of these 'composer-rockers' fail to. Where the common tendency is to get mired in cerebral noodling, there is an emotionally palpable beauty to the music that sets Taal apart. Now that I've heard their magnum opus, I'm wondering what the hell ever happened to them. Though they weren't alone in their chamber rock niche, I've seldom heard a band of that style that brought a goodhearted humour to what they did. I imagine it's probably fruitless to wish it, but I hope one of the band members conjures some manner of necromancy, and brings Taal back for another record. Skymind is a damned fine contribution to modern progressive rock, and it's a shame they've never taken their sound further than this.

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Posted Tuesday, June 30, 2015 | Review Permalink

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