Tom Hayes 20-Aug-2006 Besombes-Rizet (Pole)

The Paris based Pole label was one of a certain uncompromising music aesthetic, similar to the Cosmic Courier folks in Germany and, more recently, Acme Records in England. Having access to an army of the latest keyboard toys and old stand-bys (mellotron, VCS 3, ARP 2600, Hammond, etc..) , Philippe Besombes and Jean-Louis Rizet created a double LP opus, that in reflection, is one of the true pioneering albums in the entire electronic music field – and certainly the most advanced work of its kind released in France for the day (1975). The Achilles Heel of the Pole label, and even worse its successor Tapioca, was the abominable pressing quality of the original vinyl. So not until the digital age, with aggressive and uncompromising Israeli label Mio leading the charge, do we finally have a chance to hear this album the way it was intended. “Pole” is a difficult album to review, as it doesn’t have a “typical sound” per se, but rather a smorgasbord of concepts that can be heard in snippets of other 1970s era electronic albums. Opener ‘Haute Pression’ and closer ‘Synthi Soit-il’ can be best categorized as electronic rock. The former featuring a heavy dose of sequencing, paced by real drums, that recalls later works such as Klaus Schulze’s “Moondawn” (1976) or Wolfgang Bock’s “Cycles” (1980). The closing track is similar, but extended (22 minutes) with more room for keyboard soloing (close to noodling), with extensive phasing of the percussion, similar to something Dieter Dirks might do. It’s this factor that closes the loop on the Cosmic Jokers / Galactic Supermarket comparisons. No 1970’s French electronic album can avoid a Heldon comparison, and “Pole” is no exception. The dark sequencing that is normally associated with Richard Pinhas and crew, can be found on tracks like ‘Montelimar’ and ‘Lundi Matin’. But instead of searing fuzz guitar, ‘Montelimar’ features trumpet while ‘Lundi Matin’ has some wonderful electric saxophone. ‘Armature Double’ has to rank as the most unique composition on the album. No describing this one with easy comparisons. A very somber 18 minute piece with mellotron, voices, electric piano, and sundry 1970s era synthesizers that really creates a melancholy mood. That is, with the exception of short bursts of loud fuzz bass and industrial sounding noises – which are quite dramatic in this context. For me the best is track 2, ‘Evelyse’, which is one of the finest underground pieces of music I’ve ever heard. With echoing flute and “locust at night” synthesizers, it’s a melding of Tangerine Dream’s “Alpha Centauri” with Ash Ra Tempel’s ‘Jenseits’ from the “Join Inn” album. The track reaches a crescendo that will send a chill up one’s spine. It’s outright begging to be the soundtrack for an art film. A phenomenal piece. Overall, “Pole” is a very difficult album to comprehend in one or two listens. This will take many spins to truly comprehend, just due to the exploratory nature of the music within.

Mike McLatchey 20-Aug-2006 Hydravion - Hydravion (1977)

Hydravion were one of the few electronic-oriented artists/ensembles working in late 70s France. Comparisons that immediately come to mind when thinking of this era start with Richard Pinhas and Heldon, and certainly the combination of synthesizers and sequencers on Hydravion's debut seem informed by the music of Pinhas. Like Pinhas, Hydravion do not seem much informed by what was happening in neighboring Germany in the 70s, which gives the music a certain freshness. But unlike Pinhas, Hydravion never get too industrial or stark, keeping the music to a melodic focus throughout the album's five pieces. The only place where this changes is towards the end of the album's longest track, "Triste Fin," where synthetic sound effects rumble noisily in the background while a guitar solos behind. While the first side of the album was dominated by electronic music, the second side brings in, horror of horrors, disco! Yes, "L'Hydravion d'Argent" whips out the funky bass and drums for a weird precursor to future dance music, a style they supposedly revisited in full for their second and last effort. However, while there are a few rhythmic experiments here, by the time of the last track, "J'ai Pas le Temps," Hydravion are back to analog atmospherics that meander rather unimpressively to their end. Overall, this is a rather dated slab of plastic, whose lack of reissue ought to cause few any distress. It certainly didn't compel me to seek out their second.

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