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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Miriodor

Avanti!

Review by Scott Montgomery

If you are an avant-leaning prog-head and not previously heard of Miriodor, let me be the first to welcome you back to the surface from whatever rock you have been residing under!  This Québécois group has been one of the most dynamic and genuinely progressive stalwarts of the progressive rock scene since 1985’s Rencontres (though the band’s origins can be traced as far back as 1980).  Miriodor concocts a richly varied progressive stew, possessing some sonic resemblance to the Canterbury scene, particularly in its serious musical playfulness.  There is also much of the intense and complex sensibility found in the finest instrumental R.I.O. groups, such as Univers Zero.  It is most impressive that four instrumentalists (with some assistance from a few guests) paint with such a diversely-colored sonic palette – often in the course of a single, brief composition. Theirs is an intricate music of bravado group performance, full of sudden thematic and rhythmic changes, beguilingly unusual harmonic play, and dramatic yet sonorous contrasts.  Shape-shifting, polymorphic, prismatic themes gallop forward, turn a corner, stand on their heads, and again reconfigure themselves, seemingly ad infinitum.  This is some wild stuff!  The music is always on the go, yet always coherent.  Despite being essentially R.I.O., this is oddly accessible in ways that might not always be the case for the less avant-crazed listener (though avant-garde buffs will also find much to tickle their ears and cerebral cortices…).  While one might hear echoes of UZ, Samla Mammas Manna, later King Crimson, The Muffins, Gilgamesh, Gentle Giant, and National Health, they are all seamlessly blended into a unique, well-nigh inimitable sound that is essentially su generis.  Infused with off-kilter demented Klezmer-like echoes, there is a surreal new Old-World quality – deliciously quirky in extremis.  While there are strong flavors of the past, this is progressive in its newness, its freshness, its bold sense of surprise.  No-one really sounds exactly like Miriodor and thus I hold them to be among the most genuinely progressive of bands active today…not to mention one of the finest.  Kudos to Cuneiform Records for yet again releasing some of the finest progressive music of the year!

 

Avanti! is Miriodor’s seventh album in its twenty-five year recording career.  Following in the footsteps of 2001’s glorious Mekano and 2005’s superb Parade (which includes both a disc of new studio recordings and a disc of their phenomenal, breakout performance at NEARFest 2002), Avanti! has some serious shoes to fill.  And fill them it does, exhibiting both continuity with the familiar quirks of the previous releases (Parade in particular) as well as developing a somewhat more brooding heaviness that progresses their own sound.  That said, fear not! – there is no prog-metal crunch or sonic abuse here, but rather more of the melodic and rhythmic intensity associated with the mighty Crim of 73-74.  As one not fond of metal-influenced heavy prog, I will admit to having been a little concerned when I first heard this disc described as “heavier” than previous Miriodor releases.  No need to fear - there was no unpleasant surprise upon first listen.  On the contrary, my thoughts were distinctly of the “this could only be Miriodor” type.  If you love Miriodor’s previous work, then there is little doubt that you will love this one too.  I suspect that there are few “casual Miriodor fans” – if one has one of their CDs, s/he probably has all seven.  They do not all sound the same, but rather constantly sound different – the shape-shifting play of Miriodor being perhaps their most gloriously consistent element.  (As my wife noted, “these guys are all over the board…but it’s great!”).  As with their other albums, those who enjoy R.I.O. that is simultaneously profound and musically playful, will find their ears feasting upon Avanti! with great relish (perchance even a double helping thereof!).  Perhaps, none-too-surprisingly, this is one of my favorite releases of 2009.

 

Given the musical puckish-ness of Miriodor, I cannot help but feel that this is a game.  Such is the joy of listening to this band – they are complex, profound and musically serious while simultaneously tremendously playful, oftentimes downright amusing.  It is so refreshing to find this joie-de-vivre in more avant-leaning prog (or any prog, for that matter) which so often takes itself seriously at the expense of any infectious sense of amused/amusing abandon.  Profoundly playful and playfully profound, Miriodor’s particular bent of complex musical tapestry, might after all be best described not so much as R.I.O. as surrealist prog (though generally more Magritte than Dali, in possessing more intellectual coolness than jarring dis-ease).  Unlike Miriodor’s previous output, which concentrate on relatively short compositions usually clocking in under six minutes (the exception being the early Rencontres), the seven pieces on Avanti! are somewhat longer, running between six-and-a-half and ten-and-a-half minutes.  Many of Miriodor’s brief, but complex musical odysseys, are rife with a playful, hallucinatory quality.  Like Fellini on acid, Mirodor provides tantalizing contrapuntal soundscapes that never fall out of musical coherence, nor do they ever adhere to normative musical expectations.  Tempos and tonalities shift, oddly distorted voices and incomprehensible sounds emerge from and quickly dissolve into the audio-morphic stew.  But this is far from ambient music, it dynamically moves in varying gaits – from a somnambulant slog to a steadily purposeful step to a lilting skip to a thunderous stomp, and everything in between.  This sonic adventure takes us all over the map.  A trip indeed, but always a good trip! 

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
envoûtement (bewitchment)
An atmosphere of swirling electronics and barely audible voices lulls the unsuspecting listener into a perception that something darkly ambient this way comes – something of a surprise for those of us familiar with the rich, dynamic intensity of Miriodor’s previous work.  Twenty-five seconds in, this illusion is shattered with the crashing entrance of the band, driven here by the aggressively ponderous bass of Nicolas Masino.  For a minute-and-a-half we are regaled with a powerful stomp recalling Red-era Crimson, with Bernard Falaise’s guitar and Pascal Globensky’s keyboards weaving a rich texture over Rémi Leclerc’s powerful drumming.  At about the two-minute mark, the rhythm briefly drops out, leaving the sustained electric guitar hanging in the air like Wile E. Coyote…only to be caught by an ambling rhythmic gait as drums and bass return, accompanied by gently atmospheric clavier, synths, and tasty guitar.  Swelling through ebb and flow, as though gliding through a dreamscape, the music again changes gear with a dramatically brief punch before the five-minute mark.  This too, abruptly suspends over an aural precipice only to resolve into more familiar Miriodor territory of delightfully playful and complexly interwoven melodic-and rhythmic dynamics that have a serpentine quality redolent of the finest moments of Discipline-era Crimson.  You get the picture.  Nicely textured dreamscapes floating over slow grooves alternate with jaunty contrapuntal weaves and abrupt, dynamic changes – yep, this is Miriodor alright.
bolide débile (dare devil)

This is a most apt title for Miriodor!  Tightly angular, twisting and turning, rollicking and rolling, the band veritably dances along a tightrope, occasionally dramatically punctuated with Maxime St-Pierre’s trumpet.  After two minutes, this drops down to some scratchy electronic noises that establish an odd rhythmic cadence, built upon by the bass before the rest of the band remerge with tightly interwoven motifs.  Just after four minutes, everything abruptly starts, to be recommenced by a solitary driving cowbell beat over which the band delves back into the tightrope dance theme, trumpet and all.  Forward this skips and darts, building in intensity until it is abruptly brought to a conclusion with a peculiar quasi-yodel vocal - typical of Miriodor in its element of playful surprise.

La roche (meeting point)

 Gong…..delicately creepy keyboard figures…it almost sounds like classic Goblin for a minute, before a guitar-saxophone weave introduces a somewhat brooding, albeit inimitably Miriodor-esque melody.  Of course, this almost immediately drops out, leaving an odd snapping soundscape…more Goblin?  And off we go again, into a darker, almost lugubrious sonic state of Miriodorland, with all its turns and twists – a menacing roller-coaster ride that occasionally swings back through the guitar-saxophone figure (perhaps the meeting point?), past carnivalesque backdrops replete with humming clowns.  If this is indeed a slightly sinister ride, it is one that I would happily stand in line to ride again! Tickets, please.

écart-type (standard deviation)

Yowza!  An old phonograph recording of French chanson-populaire operatique is cut off with a series of gunshots(?) and bizarre, rhythmic quasi-electronic clusters before the band enters augmented with a percussive, bongo underpinning.  It is delightful madness! Moving along in a quintessentially quirky Mirodor surrealist klezmer-romp, the tune dynamically drops in-and-out of more upbeat and quietly textured passages with Falaise’s electric guitar moving to the foreground for a series of fine solos.

à determiner (to be determined)

Ethereal atmospheres emerging from electronic space whales (?) are joined by an understated four-note descent on the bass while the high-hat marks the time (egad! – its 4/4!).  Ruminative clavinet and then piano join in, forming a delicate, spacious slow dance which evolves and mutates into ever-more surreal steps, gradually building in angularity. Dropping back to soft solo piano, which again suddenly shifts, now to a staccato double-time tempo that leads to a jazzy shuffle, the tune dances the rhythmic and harmonic spectrum.  No ordinary jazz shuffle – this is Miriodor, after all – there is a quirky off-kilter quality to its ever-shifting permutations.  Onward we float through a kaleidoscopic conjunction of smoky jazz club and demented circus tent, replete with flying elephants, conjured by the squelching saxophone of Perre Labbé.  Clocking in at 10:24, this is the longest number that Miriodor has committed to disc thus far.

avanti! (avanti!)

The title cut commences with something sounding like a reverse-tape of bowed cymbals, establishing a rhythmic foundation to which a chiming hand-bell joins before the bass leads the ensemble into a sauntering dance that underpins a finely melodic guitar solo (whose prominence returns later in the number).  Atmospheric effects, ineffable sounds and voices flit in and out, fashioning some of the most hallucinatory passages on the entire disc (and that is saying quite a bit!).  This being Miriodor, things again change before the three-minute mark is reached, with a concordantly dissonant walk-down from which emerges a loping rhythm like the waltz of a peg-legged pirate…avast and avanti…and this is but half-way into the number.  Some uncharacteristically aggressive, but superb electric guitar felicitously dominates the later half of the number.  Onward we twist and turn through this phantasmagorical auditory journey, following Alice down a sonic rabbit-hole….until we emerge, mad as hatters but smiling like Cheshire Cats.

reveille-matin (shadow of the alarm clock)

A surreal soundscape transitions us out of dark dreams until we are socked in the ears by a full-band alarm.  Good morning!  This alarm clock casts a particularly bold, giant shadow.  Some of the heaviest music on the disc awakens us in crashing waves before settling back into a somnambulant gait…and off we go again.  Alternately dreamily ponderous, emphatically staccato, and dramatically intense, Avanti!’s closing reveille seems to carry us through a day’s journey, which often seems to wind back to the land of nod.  Not long after the nebulous dreamscape lulls us back into realms of repose, the alarm-clock shatters our erstwhile rest with a bang – hit the snooze button……but it comes back, and we definitively awaken with the increased stimulation that carries the tune (the day?) onward to altered consciousness…before we fade off…back to sleep perhaps, after a most enjoyable, hour-long voyage through metamorphic sonic topography.

 
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