Looking Back and Forward – Nemo Revisits Their Debut Album, “Les Nouveaux Mondes”

Nemo – Les Nouveaux Mondes – 2022
Tracks: Abysses (10:03), Dr Fergusson Et Les Caprices Du Vent Vol. 1: Au dessus des toits (6:39), Danse du diable (2:48), Tempête (7:18), Dans la lune encore (6:23), Dr. Fergusson Et Les Caprices Du Vent Vol. 2: Au dessus des pyramides (5:58), Phileas (20:41): a. Départ/Europe (4:57), b. Les fleuves sacrés (3:16), c. Luna (5:54), d. Nouveau monde (6:34)
Bonus Tracks (CD/LP only): Africa (5:51), Bataille Navale (11:05)

A few months ago I favorably reviewed the third album in a trilogy by French guitarist and singer Jean Pierre Louveton (JPL). JPL is better-known for his work with Nemo, one of the bigger names in French progressive rock. The band has been around for twenty years now, and although they have essentially been on hiatus since 2015, they decided to re-record and re-release their first album (2002), Les Nouveaux Mondes, a couple months ago. I haven’t heard the original recording, but I can say this new version certainly sounds fresh.

This new version features the band’s classic lineup of Jean Pierre Louveton (guitar, lead vocals, bass, virtual instruments), Guillaume Fontaine (keyboards, vocals), Lionel B. Guichard (bass), Jean Baptiste Itier (drums), along with Benoît Gaignon (bass) and Pascal Bertrand (drums) on the final bonus track.

The guitars really stand out to me on this record, with intricate riffing and shredding backed by detailed layers of drums, piano, and bass. I’m reminded a bit of Rush with the guitar-work. JPL’s rhythm playing really drives the album. His style borders on both jazz and metal, with a little middle-eastern flair on “Au dessus des pyramides.” The bass seems to shine most during the guitar solos, oddly enough. Perhaps because some of the synths are pulled back during the solos, allowing the bass to be heard more clearly.

The 20-minute final track, “Phileas,” is divided into four parts, and it grabs you from the get-go with its fast pace, driving drums, and riffing guitar. The organ gives it a retro vibe without making it sound lost in time. The second and third parts move into more unique territory, with “Luna” featuring what I think is a xylophone. This is balanced by heavier guitars that definitely have a bit of early 2000s prog metal influence.

The album’s story (sung in French) relates to history, exploration, and travel. The album leans on the instrumental side, however. The new album artwork also features the “Nautilus” – Captain Nemo’s ship from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” which gives a bit of a hint to the lyrical content.

The CD/LP-only bonus tracks are worth picking up the CD or vinyl. The guitar riffing on “Africa” makes for an enjoyable listen, and the mellotron in the second half was an unexpected but welcome surprise. The percussion in this part of the song also has some unique flavor to it. “Bataille Navale” is a live track with a very 70s retro vibe. Heavy hard rock guitars, bass, and drums with prominent organ dripping with Deep Purple and Focus influence. JPL’s guitar solo has a very bluesy feel, which is rather different than his playing on this album. It shows the range of his playing and how he excels in various styles.

This re-recorded record was my intro to Nemo, and I have to say I’m impressed. I don’t know if it means the band plans on making more music together in the future, but this fresh take on the band’s first album definitely piqued my interest in them. The French prog scene clearly has much to offer, both in the present and past. Les Nouveaux Mondes offers a little bit of both.

Bandcamp
http://nemo-world.com/home

Gabriel Keller’s Stunning Musical Journey – “Clair Obscur”

GabrielGabriel Keller – Clair Obscur, 2022
Tracks: Tumulte (3:29), Time (5:01), Train To Resolution (4:27), Open Arms (5:13), Melancholia (3:50), Sonate Au Clair Obscur (6:42), Nothing Human (5:35), Out Of My Life (6:51), Honey (4:45), Acclamie (2:59)

We’re back into our mini series of reviews of French progressive rock albums, and today’s album has been my favorite of the batch. Gabriel Keller’s Clair Obscur has a range of influences, from the Beatles and Pink Floyd to Porcupine Tree and Opeth. The album features four different vocalists, each of whom wrote their own lyrics in their language of choice (English and French). There are three different guitarists and a host of stringed and blown instruments as well.

The first half of the album leans more on the pop influences, much influenced by Emi B’s smooth and clear vocals. The lyrics touch on struggles of love in difficult circumstances. The melodies on these tracks (“Time,” “Train to Resolution,” and “Open Arms”) are very catchy and very memorable. The melancholic pop of “Open Arms” makes a nice transition to Charlotte Gagnor’s appropriately entitled track, “Melancholia.” The French lyrics and Gagnor’s voice create a haunting atmosphere that is beautifully supported by strings and the occasional Gilmour lick from Keller’s guitar.

As the album moves along, it gradually gets heavier until it is solidly in progressive metal territory by “Honey.” One might think the differences in style across one album would be jarring, but the gradual shift as it goes makes it work really well. Even though there are four different singers with four different styles of writing, and thus varying lyrical themes, the album feels very cohesive. That’s a testament to Gabriel Keller as a musical writer.

The instrumental opening track sets the stage nicely, giving the listener a flavor of what’s to come: guitar-driven rock with spacey backgrounds and layered sounds with varying levels of heaviness. Similarly, the instrumental closing track helps the listener decompress after the album gradually ascended the mountain of rock.

The variety of instrumentation also set this album apart. “Sonate au Clair Obscur” demonstrates the layers to be found on this record. It’s a longer primarily instrumental piece complete with stringed quartet, piano, and varying styles of guitar. It starts off quieter before gradually moving into heavier and more complex territory. The strings take on a more abrupt pace, complementing the growing heaviness of the guitar tone. There are some lyrics in the song, but they are more like backing vocal tracks with the music taking center stage. This track is really about the music.

“Nothing Human” is the closest to Porcupine Tree that we get on the record. The mournful guitar playing in the back of the mix behind Maïté Merlin’s vocals. The guitars have a heavy crunch throughout, especially in the chorus. My only beef in this song comes from pronunciation on a particular vowel in the word “winner,” which repeats in the chorus. In French and English, the letters “i” and “e” are pronounced opposite from each other. As such, the way Merlin pronounces this word in English comes out a bit differently than intended. I’m immature so I found it funny, which clearly isn’t the intent of the song. Honestly, that is the only complaint I have with the record – I’m grasping at straws for that. The song is great. The heaviness is well-balanced by Merlin’s vocals.

This record has certainly grabbed my attention over the several months I’ve had it (yes, yes, I know, I’m slow at reviewing and I have a backlog), so much so that Clair Obscur will find its way into my year-end best of list. The songs are memorable, and they draw you in with each listen. The stylistic variety on the album works well because of how the album is arranged. It gradually builds by the end leaving you wondering how you got to where you ended up. If you’re looking for an album to take you on a journey through realms of melancholic pop and hard rock crunch, put Clair Obscur on your list.

Album Review: @SolaceSupplice “Liturgies Contemporaines”

Solace Supplice - Liturgies ContemporainesSolace Supplice, Liturgies Contemporaines, June 15, 2022
Tracks: Le Tartuffe Exemplaire (5:12), Sunset Street (4:12), A Demi-Maux (4:03), Les Miradors (6:46), Cosmos Adultérin (3:57), Schizophrénie Paranoïde (3:14), Au Cirque Des Âmes (4:10), En Guidant Les Hussards (4:19), Liturgies Contemporaines (3:53), Dans La Couche Du Diable (4:46), Marasmes Et Décadence (4:33)

[Edit: I discovered just after finishing this review and posting it that primary band member Eric Bouillette passed away last month. Our deepest condolences to his family and the band. He was an incredibly talented musician and artist.]

For my third review of recent French releases (see 1 and 2), I bring you Solace Supplice’s Liturgies Contemporaines. Ok, I’m cheating. The band is technically based in England, but the lyrics are in French and the primary players are French. The album has a solid soundscape that is both moody and epic, with a variety of musical textures and sounds.

Primary members Eric Bouillette and Anne-Claire Rallo are members of Nine Skies, a fine band that has made some waves in prog circles in recent years. Both are multi-instrumentalists, with Bouillette playing guitars, keyboards, and violins as well as singing. Rallo plays keyboards and bass. They are joined by Jimmy Pallagrosi on drums, Laurent Benhamou on saxophone on a couple tracks, and Willow Beggs (Nick Beggs’ daughter) on bass on several tracks.  

The record opens with an old English-language clip from the BBC. The song quickly dives into a fast-paced guitar-driven gallop, with that BBC clip popping up again periodically. I liked the inclusion of that clip because it elevates the scope of the record just a bit – makes things feel a little bit more epic. 

The title track, “Liturgies Contemporaines,” is probably my favorite on the record. It is brooding and atmospheric, slightly reminiscent of Steven Wilson or Porcupine Tree. The vocals and guitars really shine over the repeating keyboard line and simple drum riff. Bouillette’s vocals really stand out on this song. The tone he creates on this is rather different than on the rest of the record, and I think he sounds best on this song. Sometimes his vocals are a bit monotonous when singing the French lyrics, but his voice is very dynamic on the title track.

Lyrically the album leans on the more obscure, allowing for more interpretation. It also helps that they’re in French, forcing English listeners to either dig deep (lyrics posted on their website), or just appreciate them for the way they sound. Bouillette’s style of singing works well on “Dans La Couche Du Diable.” The song starts quieter with piano and acoustic guitar, over which he gently sings. A pounding guitar and drum riff kicks in with a marching beat, and the vocals march along with it. The result is quite effective, especially as the song builds towards the end. The track swells towards the end as the keyboards swirl in the background. With a little extra working at the end, I think it would have made a better ending track to close the album, as “Marasmes Et Décadence” doesn’t go much of anywhere musically for most of the song until the guitar solo, bass, and keyboard solo kick in at the end. “Dans La Couche Du Diable” sounds more like an album closer to me. 

Bouillette’s guitar work is dynamic throughout the record, with clean solos on “A Demi-Maux” and grittier shredding on “Les Miradors.” The atmospheric guitar on the title track really shows the range of his capabilities, with the guitar contributing to the soundscape and standing center-stage in the second half of the song. The band scatter in some unexpected musical moments to keep us on our toes. Bouillette’s violin on “Au Cirque Des Âmes” has a gypsy jazz feel to it, and the saxophone on “En Guidant Les Hussards” adds a jazzy and atmospheric sound.

I’ve found Liturgies Contemporaines compelling on repeated listens. It has a solid rock drive with multiple textures and a variety of sounds that manages to remain cohesive. The title track really makes the album for me – I just wish it were longer. The songs could have also been edited to flow together a little better, as the general production value strikes me as being a concept album. All the same, the record is worth multiple listens for fans of contemporary prog. Certainly fans of Nine Skies will want to check it out, if they haven’t already. 

https://solacesupplice.weebly.com
https://www.facebook.com/solacesupplice/
https://twitter.com/SolaceSupplice
https://www.instagram.com/solace_supplice/
https://solacesupplice.bandcamp.com/album/liturgies-contemporaines

Album Review – JPL’s “Sapiens Chapitre 3/3: Actum”

JPL-SAPIENS-3-v3-300x300JPL (Jean Pierre Louveton), Sapiens Chapitre 3/3: Actum, Quadrifonic Records, March 2022
Tracks: Paradis Perdu (5:53), Mon Cercueil (6:08), Alia (La Mahine) (4:50), Dansez Maintenant (5:12), Memento Mori [a. Marche Vers l’inconnu, b. Tempus Fugit, c. La Mort Du Roi, d. Paria, e. Acta Fabula Est] (23:01)

Over the last several months, Progarchy HQ has received a fair number of CDs from France for review. The first such record is the third album in a trilogy of records about the history of humanity from Jean Pierre Louveton, under the alias JPL. Louveton is perhaps most well-known for his work with NEMO, a now on hiatus French progressive rock band (sort of on hiatus – the band is releasing a re-recorded version of an earlier album later this year). Since the lyrics are in French, much of Louveton’s work is likely unknown to all but the most dedicated of English-speaking prog fans.

Sapiens Chapitre 3/3: Actum is the only album of the trilogy I have heard, but I must say it is quite good. It travels the breadth of progressive rock, with hard classic rock elements, forays into jazz and fusion, and swashes of symphonic rock, especially most prevalent in the album’s 23-minute epic, “Memento Mori,” which is split into five tracks on the CD.

As you might expect, since it is the final chapter of a trilogy of records, the album sounds like it is picking up in the middle of a story. There isn’t really a big build-up in the first song, “Paradis Perdu.” It has an instrumental opening for the first few minutes, but it doesn’t strike me as being any sort of overture. Even though I haven’t heard the other albums, I quite like that this one gets right to the point. At 46 minutes in length, the album lacks the fluff that often gets padded into many progressive rock albums today.

“Mon Cercueil” starts off pretty slowly – perhaps too slowly – but it digs into a nice bass groove in the middle of the track with a brooding layer of synths over the top and complex drumming lifting up the back end. This moves into a faster tempo section with a vocal duet between JPL and Stéphanie Vouillot, who also plays piano on “La Mort Du Roi” and “Paria.” She has a lovely voice which I wish had been used even more on the record. “Mon Cercueil” ends with a great guitar solo that foreshadows the closing of the record.

YouTube – “Mon Cercueil”

“Dansez Maintenant” has a bit of an unexpected surprise with the inclusion of a Hurdy Gurdy played by Marguerite Miallier. The Hurdy Gurdy (vielle à roue in French) is a medieval-period stringed instrument used primarily in European folk music (German metal band Saltatio Mortis also have a Hurdy Gurdy player). It is operated by turning a wheel at the lower end. It adds a very distinctive sound, somewhat similar to how a bagpipe might sound if played at a fast tempo.

“Memento Mori” travels through five different movements, and it is heavy on the instrumentation. There are large symphonic elements, along with a heavier guitar sound in parts. “Tempus Fugit” is a particularly strong track in the way it combines the heavier rock sound with the orchestral tones. JPL’s vocals on “La Mort Du Roi” are more spoken in a quick whispered fashion at the beginning of the track before they are sung in a slower fashion. The band takes its most experimental route on “Paria,” with a fast jazz fusion sound and even a saxophone solo featuring Sylvain Haon. The album closes with a stellar guitar solo from JPL that builds along with the symphonic parts to a satisfying ending to the album, and I suspect also a satisfying ending to the trilogy.

The artwork by Stan Decker is another feather in the JPL cap. Somewhat reminiscent of Roger Dean’s artwork, although distinctively different, the album cover has a lot of detail that draws you in for a closer look. Jupiter in the background, Earth in the center, rising columns of green Dean-esque shapes with alien-looking bugs and flying sea rays roaming the skies. And that isn’t even all of it. The CD booklet and packaging contain further art, which certainly adds to my enjoyment of the record.

Awaken your inner Francophile and check out JPL’s Actum. Musically it will not disappoint, and for the ear accustomed to English styles of singing, the French lyrics and style of singing might be a nice change of pace for you.

Stay tuned for more reviews featuring French artists in the near future.

http://www.jplouveton.com/home-2/
https://www.quadrifonic.com/en/home/552-jpl-sapiens-chapitre-33-actum-cd.html

Bandcamp (CD quality): https://jplouveton.bandcamp.com/album/sapiens-chapitre-3-3-actum
Bandcamp (High Resolution audio): https://jplouveton.bandcamp.com/album/sapiens-chapitre-3-3-actum-hr