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HARMONIUM

Symphonic Prog • Canada


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Harmonium picture
Harmonium biography
Founded in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1972 - Disbanded in 1977

This Quebec-based Progressive rock band, who sang in French, has a very apt name in HARMONIUM. The core was a folk trio formed by guitarists Serge FIORI and Michel NORMANDEAU, and bassist Louis VALOIS. Their career was short (five years) and they released three studio albums in the mid-Seventies and a posthumous live album. They started off as a jazzy and typically French folk trio but began to delve into more progressive material on their brilliant second album, "Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison" ("If We Needed a Fifth Season"). They are regarded as one of the finest exponents (along with POLLEN and MANEIGE) of the "Golden Era of Quebec Progressive Music" Scene.

"Harmonium" is a "folky" album, but it contains progressive elements too. By their 2nd album, they were very much a cross between a symphonic rock band and a folk band; an interesting combination which you can hear most clearly on the 20-minute "Histoire Sans Paroles". Overall, a perfect album to start your French Canadian prog collection. With "L'Heptade", they reached their symphonic/progressive zenith. In addition to the now increasingly large band, classical instruments and mellotron are used throughout. This elegant double album is a testament to the potential of the genre. Both are really satisfying; if you are a confirmed proggy-prog band head,to begin with. "Harmonium en tournée" is an excellent live version of their conceptual work "L'Heptade". Fans of brave musical experiments and elegant songwriting could not be disappointed by HARMONIUM...!

See also: WiKi

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HARMONIUM discography


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HARMONIUM top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.65 | 226 ratings
Harmonium
1974
4.35 | 1301 ratings
Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
1975
4.10 | 318 ratings
L'Heptade
1976

HARMONIUM Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.21 | 89 ratings
Harmonium En Tournée
1980

HARMONIUM Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

3.22 | 14 ratings
Harmonium en Californie
2001

HARMONIUM Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

HARMONIUM Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.67 | 3 ratings
100.000 Raisons
1974
4.00 | 3 ratings
Dixie
1975
3.50 | 2 ratings
Harmonium (Promo Single)
1975

HARMONIUM Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.35 | 1301 ratings

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Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by dougmcauliffe

5 stars I slept on this album for far too long. After playing it non stop I've looked for other albums like this and come up short, the pure celebratory joy this music emotes is nearly unmatched. I am not a French speaker, I do not understand a single word that is spoken in any of these songs, but I can feel all the emotions the singer is trying to portray. The songs are packed with detail, guitars, flutes, clarinets, piano, mellotron, bass, but you wont hear any drums on this album and that only adds to the charm if you ask me. Each song is supposed to represent a season, while the 5th is supposed to represent and made up season. Every song is great, but my favorite has to be the 3rd track: Depuis L'Automne. The song sort of begins with a somewhat dark, menacing introduction but just goes through a showcase of absolutely soaring, symphonic prog folk with some of the best sounding mellotrons you'll ever hear. The ending is this wonderful celebratory sounding section that kinda ties the whole package together. The closer Historie San Paroles is just unbelievable. Along with Mike Oldfields Ommadawn, it's the most creative piece of music i've ever heard. It's once again a seamless showcase of brilliant symphonic prog with those aforementioned mellotrons, acoustic guitars, and woodwinds. There's times I don't even know what instrument is playing, but it's damn good. Words can't describe this album, but numbers can: 10/10

5 Stars

 Harmonium by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.65 | 226 ratings

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Harmonium
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars HARMONIUM was one of Quebec's top progressive rock bands in the 70s. Started by lead vocalist / guitarist Serge Fiori and Michel Normandeau on vocals and guitar, the duo who met in 1972 decided to form a band after meeting bassist Louis Valois in 1973. Starting out as a folk rock band that sang in their native French language it didn't take too long to find airplay on a local radio station and immediately found a hit with the song "Pour Un Instant" which propelled their self-titled album which came out in 1974 in the limelight and instant success at least on a local Canadian level.

While better known for the much more progressive albums like "Si On Avait Besoin D'une Cinquieme Saison" which blended their folky stylistic approach with the benefit of sophisticated symphonic prog, this debut is by far the band's album most steeped in traditional folk flavors with the simple instrumentation of acoustic guitar, bass and only an occasional trace of drums and flugelhorn. Also an uncredited piano player joins in but for the most part this is truly a folk album with only minor aspects of rock music at all.

All tracks are sung in French which gives it an interesting ethnic vibe since the music itself sounds more like typical American folk rock with some tracks reminding me of Chile's Sui Generis but is probably most similar to another folk band called Beau Dommage. The band was quite popular in small clubs and cafes which led to this all acoustic debut album. While basically a trio of two guitars and a bass, drummer Réjean Émond joins in on about half the tracks. Like most folk music of the era, the lyrics deal with social issues and craft an emotional display of chord progressions accompanied by passionate vocals. Some even claim a Fairport Convention similarity but personally HARMONIUM was a bit more earnest in its delivery, at least at this stage.

While "Pour Un Instant" became a big hit and remains the band's most successful single, the rest of the album is actually more interesting with tracks like "Vielles courroies" and "Aujourd'hui, je dis bonjour à la vie" crafting much more adventurous harmonic interplay. While French often doesn't make the best folk rock linguistic experience, band leader Serge Fiori delivers a passionate display of vocal expressions and amazingly adapts the French lyrical flow to a more English sounding style of folk music without missing a beat. The tunes are generally mid-tempo and intently catchy and probably perfect for French speakers to sing along to which is why the album has remained their most popular in Quebec while the more progressive albums that followed have become most revered in larger circles.

This album is also interesting in that the first track is called HARMONIUM on an album of the same name from the band of the same name. After this the trio would expand into a quintet with the addition of Serge Locat on keyboards and Pierre Daigneault on flutes and clarinets. Don't expect a prog behemoth on this debut but rather a nice pleasant album of catchy melodic folk tunes sung in French with nice song structures and less developed ideas than what came after. Still after and is said and done, as a folk rock album, the HARMONIUM debut more than holds its own against the wealth of British and American folk that emerged throughout the 60s and 70s only the French connection gives this one an interesting ethnic edge that artists like Bob Dylan clearly lacked. Oh, and way cool colorful album cover art. Really stands out.

 Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.35 | 1301 ratings

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Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by TheCrimsonPrince

5 stars Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison is, by far, my favorite album of all time. There is not a boring second on this masterpiece. While Vert has always been my favorite song, it should be mentioned that every song is unique in one way or another. Vert is mesmerising and melancholy; Dixie is upbeat and folksy; Depuis L'Automne is aural and rebellious (if you read into the lyrics, which are about separatism in Quebec); En Pleine Face is sentimental but bleak; Histoires sans Paroles is enchanting and mysterious. Most importantly, though, the artwork is completely and utterly evocative of the music within. The band-members are sitting on a hill in some sort of colorful meadow, alongside a myriad of enchanted, fairy-like creatures; the whimsy and wonder of this art perfectly match the majesty that the music beholds.

The lyrics of the songs are pure genius: the mood changes from song to song to signify the changing of each season. For example, Vert, or spring, is about parting, the colors, the forest, and the magic of it all. It is a somber tune in comparison to Dixie, in which the singer talks about how one should "take their fingers off their ears" and listen to the noises and the beauty of summer. However, this is not one of those albums you can just hear once: it takes a few listens to fully absorb what Harmonium has to offer. The final, suite-like "Histoires sans Paroles" is a story without words (as the title suggests) ; it serves to blend the elements of the earlier seasons into one hypothetical fifth season.

The band excludes percussion instruments entirely from the album mainly because the guitar, flute, and bass are so punctual. The flute shines brightly on Vert and Histoires sans Paroles, and the mellotron is beautifully intertwined throughout, notably in Depuis L'Automne. The acoustic guitar gives En Pleine Face its gentle tone at the beginning, but the bass and accordion at the end of the song help make it desperate and relenting. Though this is Harmonium's most symphonic release, the québécois folk-rock that was characteristic of their debut still lingers.

 Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.35 | 1301 ratings

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Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Review Nº 221

Harmonium was one of the best Canadian prog bands in the Province of Quebec. Harmonium's career was short, five years. It ended when the members of the band felt they had said all they had to say in the best possible way. Consequently, the three studio albums plus one live album that they left to posterity can all be considered important artistic statements. The band's impact on Quebec rock and culture in general has been tremendous, even in these days.

'Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquieme Saison', also known as 'Les Cinq Saisons', is the second studio album from Harmonium and was released in 1975. This album marks a change in the direction of their musical style. This new second studio album is less focused on folk, like their eponymous debut studio album 'Harmonium', to a more symphonic progressive rock style. It's a conceptual album around a seasonal concept. The first four songs are about the four traditional four seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter but it has also a fifth song that represents an imaginary fifth season. As was usual, in those times on the Canadian bands from Quebec, the lyrics are all in French.

The line up of the album is Serge Fiori (lead vocals, guitar, flute, zither harp and bass drum), Michel Normandeau (vocals, guitar and accordion), Pierre Daigneault (flute, piccolo, soprano saxophone and clarinet), Louis Valois (vocals, bass guitar and electric piano), Serge Locat (piano, mellotron and synthesizer) and Judy Richard (vocalisations).

'Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquieme Saison', has five tracks. The first track 'Vert' written by Serge Fiori and Michel Normandeau is the song that corresponds to the first season of the year, spring. It's a song that opens the album magnificently and begins with a wonderful flute melody that provides the tunes for this beautiful, calm and melodic song. It has beautiful vocal harmonies and where the musical instrumentation is very accessible but with some complexity, which makes the song emotional, deepest and intense. The second track 'Dixie' written by Serge Fiori is the song that corresponds to the second season of the year, summer. This is the shortest song on the album and is probably the most simple and melodic of all. It's a very rhythmic song, very stirring and it has also fantastic solos, especially clarinet and piano. This is a song that encourages us to sing, dance and clap our hands. It's another incredible song on the album. The third track 'Depuis L'Automne' written by Serge Fiori and Michel Normandeau is the song that corresponds to the third season of the year, autumn. It's the second lengthiest song on the album and is also my second favourite song too. This is a song that starts slowly and that grows gradually and finally, in the end, it reaches a very intense climax. Once more the vocal harmonies are so perfect that definitely contribute to the final result of an absolutely perfect song. It's important to note the great use of the mellotron on this song, which are wonderful for tron maniacs like me. The fourth song 'En Plein Face' written by Serge Fiori is the song that corresponds to the fourth season of the year, winter. It's the second shortest song of the album and corresponds perfectly with the spirit of this season of the year. It's a melancholic and sad song but it's also, at the same time so beautiful, which brings us some mixed feelings, which brings us tears to our eyes. The use of the accordion on the end of the song reminds me the typical sound of French and Argentinian music. The fifth and last track 'Histoires Sans Paroles' written by Serge Fiori is the song that corresponds to the fifth season of the year, if we needed a fifth season. It's divided into five parts, 'L'Isolement', 'L'Appel', 'La Rencontre', 'L'Union' and 'Le Grand Bal'. It's the lengthiest song on the album, the great magnus opus, the best song and it's my favourite song too. This is absolutely so fantastic and perfect that is very difficult to me write anything about it. It's a song absolutely magic where all the performances of the all instruments like mellotron, flute, guitars and vocal harmonies are completely perfect. Its music is so beautifully and celestial that, if there is a God, He is here on this song. This is the perfect song to end this incredible, beautiful and amazing album.

Conclusion: 'Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquieme Saison' is the kind of progressive album, obscure and missed by most of the people and only known by experts like us. It's one of those pearls like 'Hybris' and 'Epilog' of Anglagard, 'Depois Do Fim' of Bacamarte, 'Unfolded Like Staircase' of Discipline and 'Onde, Quando, Como, Porqu', Cantamos Pessoas Vivas' of Quarteto 1111, only to mention a few of them, that deserve to be discovered. 'Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquieme Saison' is without any doubt a great album, an absolute masterpiece and it's also, in my opinion, one of the best albums released in the 70's. It's almost an acoustic album, musically very beautiful, that sounds different and it's, in a certain way, a very special album in the progressive music scene of that time. If you like the sound of the acoustic albums mixed with some electric parts, especially mellotron, and you are searching for something that sounds beautiful and different, you shouldn't miss it for any reason. If the perfection and the beauty exist, they're here, surelly.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 Harmonium En Tournée by HARMONIUM album cover Live, 1980
4.21 | 89 ratings

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Harmonium En Tournée
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by Glimpse

4 stars En Tournée has developed a bit of a reputation with it being the only known testament of the legendary Quebec band Harmonium's live prowess. The album itself has a rather odd history, in that it was originally released but quickly withdrawn due to it not being approved by the band. It only recently saw the light of day again in 2002, as a rather reluctant response to the (at the time) recent emergence of bootlegged versions on CD. Even still it's not the easiest album to get a hold of, especially due to it not being available digitally.

The audio quality in this release is absolutely fantastic, and I wouldn't expect any less from a show professionally recorded by Radio-Canada. The show itself only covered the band's 3rd album, L'Heptade an album which I have been quite into at the time of writing this.

Its always interesting to see a live version of an album you've become so familiar with, as you never quite know what to expect. En Tournée provides a rather unique take on L'Heptade, while not as polished as the album itself, the variation presented in the performance is enough to keep anyone familiar with the source material interested. Most songs are faithful to the original recording with some slight variation. For example, the track Le Premier Ciel features a good deal of saxophone work not heard on the album version.

I would have wished that it had covered material from all three of their albums rather than just L'Heptade, but I should be grateful there is even as fantastic a live recording as this available at all. I'm feeling a strong four stars, maybe 4 1/2, it's pretty darn close to perfect and should definitely be owned by anyone who considers them-self a fan of Harmonium's work.

 Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.35 | 1301 ratings

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Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by Queen By-Tor
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

5 stars I recently came across a copy of this on vinyl in pristine condition at my favorite record store. I had purchased it on CD many years ago as a young progressive rock rookie and had been completely enamored by it then. So, at a price that suggested the store probably didn't know what they had, I picked up this album and excitedly gave it a spin for the first time in years.

My goodness, how I have missed this exquisite francophone masterwork.

Si on Avait besoin d'une Cinquième Saison is Harmonium's 2nd of three albums and while not their most ambitious, certainly their most accomplished. Translating to "If We Had Need of a Fifth Season" (just let that paint a picture for you for a second), the album is a concept work featuring five compositions, each representing a season, with the final track representing the imaginary Fifth Season. Like many classic symphonic works of the day, this album makes use of a myriad of music performed on a variety of instruments with effortless coalescence. The difference here is the unique flavor that this Montreal group is able to bring to the fray. Mandolin, grand pianos, mellotron and synthesizers, piccolo and zither harp along with the standard rock outfit of instruments paints each season with care, personality and precision while managing to keep the overall tone of the album upbeat to the point of being soothing.

Vert opens with a perfect introduction of how the music of the album is going to treat you, Soft flutes build with vocals that eventually become soaring. I also recommend translating the lyrics for this one because the music with the accompanying imagery of the opening of flowers "who are remembering their colors" is nothing short of spectacular. Dixie is unmistakable as Summer's track. It's jangling and fun guitars join with more soothing vocals that lead into a bouncy, intricate trade off in extended soloing between multiple instruments that join in conclusion to one of progressive rock's most upbeat songs. It's here that, in tandem with the first track, the band finishes working with musical themes presented on their debut album and wet the palate for the symphonic that is about to come.

Starting with Depuis L'Automne the band expands their sound into something lush and consuming. The delicate vocal intro builds into mellotron spiced harmonies with the rest of the players coming in gradually and organically building this soft and intricately structured suite. The lush sounds continue onto side two with En Pleine Face, a song that captures the essence of a cold winter while still maintaining the warm atmosphere that permeates on the album.

But it's Histoires Sans Paroles that really steals the show here. Representative of the fifth season, this 17-minute epic builds with the band's unique francophone flavor supported by flute and mellotron, mixing melancholy with trance-inducing instrumentals. Cinematic passages towards the end of the song providing a contrast between the otherwise utopian themes with something a little more realistic and dark that gives the album a thematic edge above and beyond "this is a happy album". It gives the audience somewhere to think and reflect, to be grateful for the happiness without pushing too far into depressing territory. It is a symphonic-instrumental masterpiece, reaching levels that contemporaries like Yes were able to attain.

I was shocked when I drifted past PA to check out my decade-old review of the album, only to discover that I never actually reviewed it. This is an absolutely essential piece of the progressive rock canon. If you see it, get it, especially if you can find it on vinyl. The artwork and the full gatefold are just as lush as the music within. Stream it if you want a taste before you dive in headlong, but by all means, give this album some of your time and attention. If symphonic prog is your thing and you don't already know this album from cover to cover, listen to this as soon as you can.

 Harmonium by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.65 | 226 ratings

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Harmonium
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Playing prog-folk with a strong emphasis on the folk (the prog side of their formula would become stronger on Les Cinq Saisons, and dominate L'Heptade), Harmonium's debut album is charmingly beautiful, with perhaps the best treat being Serge Fiori's exceptional lead vocals. True to the Quebecois pride that underpinned their work, the unit sings in French and looks as much to French folk music as to more North American folk rock sounds in constructing their particular blend. If you are mostly here for the prog in their sound, I would suggest leaving this until after you've sampled Les Cinq Saisons or L'Heptade, but if you are coming at them from a folk rock perspective I would say this is definitely worth a try.
 Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.35 | 1301 ratings

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Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by froggie471

3 stars Well, I just registered because I was so surprised to find "Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison" reviewed on a progressive rock forum.

I was a teen when this album came out and I lived in QC for most of my life. Harmonium was a folk rock band, typical french canadian style. Nothing to do with Yes, Genesis, ELP, Emerson or even Rush. Now that I live in the States, I think Harmonium was a mix between Grateful Dead and Neil Young. I painted the album cover (double) with a friend of mine on panels near by the highschool library. It was an art project. I was a big Genesis fan (early stuff) but I've never asssociated Harmonium with progressive music. They were a band that had a different style on each of their album. The first album (Harmonium-Harmonium) is the best to my taste. It's really inspiring because of the guitars and melodies. "La cinquième saison" (we made a short name for it...after a while) was mostly appreciated to relax. That was not the album you would play during a party.

I don't mean to say that it's not a good album, not at all! But to "classify" music is sometimes tricky. French Canadians have different roots and a different culture. So I would say that the music was typical rock-folk from the 70's in QC. It's a bit like you can't say Jethro Tull was as "hard rock" as Led Zeppelin. Tull was a lot more acoustic even if Page was great with an acoustic guitar. Just not the same feel.

However, this is a good album. I would believe Harmonium lost a bit their "voice" when they did "L'Heptade". It was almost a mystic album. Lyrics were mostly repetitive poems and personaly, I just can't figure why they had such a shift in their style.

I never thought this album would be mentionned in an anglophone forum. It's indeed an album to discover but their first album is a must.......even if it's still not progressive rock.

Sorry for my bad English :)

 Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.35 | 1301 ratings

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Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by AndyJ

3 stars Harmonium's 'Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison' is my first journey into the music of this Canadian prog-folk band, and I've been left struggling for words to describe this one. I've only had this disc in my collection for a few weeks now, picking it up after looking through the prog-archives database for "something new". I'm really open to hearing any new music, so to see an album with many excellent ratings that I hadn't heard before I thought was certainly worth checking out.

At first I didn't really know what to think when listening to it. There are no drums, no electric guitar, none of the more 'traditional' elements of prog music that I'm so familiar with. I wasn't even sure if this was particularly progressive, to my ears it just sounded like beautiful French-Canadian folk music. But I kept listening, and enjoying what I was hearing. And then I reached the final track, 'Histoires Sans Paroles', and I was absolutely floored. Wow - where has this piece of music been all of my life! Such incredibly beautiful progressive music. It didn't need the electric guitar, or drums, or blazing fast keyboard solos which are so typical of the prog style I admire so much.

This is a progressive album which does things on its own terms. The musicality here is delightful, there is a wonderful interplay between the instruments. And its just so beautiful and happy (or hippy perhaps?). This record has been getting at least one play a day since I bought it and I'm discovering more and more with each listen. But here is my problem in assigning a rating to this album. I appreciate and enjoy the first 4 tracks, but in no way do they compare to the final track, the 17 minute epic 'Histories Sans Paroles'. I can't give this album 5-stars, and I'm not even sure that 4-stars would be a suitable rating. Really, this is somewhere between 3 and 4 stars, and I'll probably be a little bit cautious and give this one 3-stars, but this might change as I give this album more plays.

 Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.35 | 1301 ratings

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Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by Magnum Vaeltaja
Special Collaborator Eclectic Prog Team

5 stars One of the true gems of the genre.

Prog never really took off in North America, at least not to the same level that it did in Europe. And I think that a big reason for that is because most North American prog bands didn't play North American prog, they just played music that sounded a lot like European prog. This is problematic, of course, because a group of suburban Ohioans or Iowa farm boys or west coast California hippies don't have the experience and cultural roots that make Genesis' delicate British rock or Pink Floyd's melancholy English musings resonate so clearly on the world stage. As a result, most North American came out (and still comes out) sounding derivative and lacking. But what Harmonium creates on this album does not succumb to that fate; not in the slightest. What we have here is original, genuinely Canadian prog that speaks to the background and identity of the musicians who play it.

An allegorical work, Harmonium's pastoral second album is a musical journey through the passing of the seasons in Eastern Canada's heartland. Nostalgic, bucolic, human, are all words that come to mind describing the sound of the album. Acoustic guitar and soft keyboard textures delight the listener and the mood ranges from spry and lively in the spring and summer to autumn's longing to fantastical dreamscapes in the fictional "Fifth Season", represented by "Histoires Sans Paroles". The album is really flawless, a true work of art.

A must listen not just for prog fans, but for all music fans.

Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to NotAProghead for the last updates

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