|Richard Poulin||24-April-2008||Nula Jedan|
Founded in 1998, Thork has now virtually become the project of one man, Sébastien Fillion, who is responsible for most of the instrumentation. But in 2004, Thork was a full-fledged 5-piece band, and had already undergone major personnel changes. Thus, the other musicians and guests heard on Nula Jedan are ex-members of the band and remind one of what once was Thork. Fillion is really a muli-talented man, and one is never under the impression that the instrumentation is less than superlative, except in the department of vocals, which are not Sebastien’s strongest asset. In fact, Fillion sounds pretty much like your typical average French pop singer, or a clone of Michel Polnareff if you prefer, or for those of you with prog references, Pentacle’s singer (Gérald Reuz).
But if you are looking for brilliant, inspiring and inspired acoustic guitar work, Fillion excels to that, like on the first track, easily the best of the album, the 12’47’’ Ex-Slave. Here’s a multipartite mini-epic that follows a nice progression on a melodic theme, including superb, melancholic violin (played by Claire Northey), sophisticated, varied percussion (featuring some nice glockenspiel), switching from soft acoustic to symphonic electric passages seamlessly, the whole being richly arranged. Thus, a pure prog gem, and one wishes that the rest of the album would follow such a beautiful vein. But when Filion falls back to the streamlined version of Thork, the final result sounds more like a set of nicely arranged songs, but a bit lackluster, mainly because of the subpar vocals (and the somewhat trite lyrics, but this should not be much of a problem for non-French-speaking listeners). Fortunately, the guitar work often saves the day, combined with really rich and inventive percussion. The use of the oud and orientalizing variations (e.g. ‘La Lumière’) also add nice and unusual hues to the music on Nula Jedan, which would otherwise tend to sound monocord and a bit repetitious. And here and there, all of a sudden, something unusual and unexpected happens: chamber prog! For those of you like me who crave for such things, there are moments of pure chamber bliss coming out of nowhere, almost like patchwork added during the final editing. And when one looks back at the tracklist, it is fairly easy to understand: those are the tracks where other musicians were invited to participate (tracks 6 and 8, in particular). Take ‘Au Ciel’ (track 6): at about 3:15 into the song comes this movement that reminds one of what David Palmer used to do best when orchestrating Jethro Tull: strings, brass, piano, vigorous, syncopated symphonic flurries that wakes one up and infuse greatness and beauty to a simple song. Same on track 8 (‘01’), where the beat accelerates suddenly and a bit of Oriental-izing nervous symphonic orchestration saves the tune from flatness. It is a bit unfortunate that such movements are far too scarce and that the slightly wimpy vocals undermine the impact of such brilliant moments. Otherwise, Nula Jedan would rank among the best prog France had to offer in 2007.
Overall, Nula Jedan is an unequal effort by a very
talented multi-instrumentalist who makes truly
exciting symphonic prog when assisted by ex-members of
Thork. The music is often hypnotic, and to give a
hint of the style, often evokes Pink Floyd’s The Wall
in its general melancholic mood or atmosphere, but
with a richer instrumentation. These moments of sheer
brilliance don’t compare favorably with the tracks
made by Sebastien Fillion as sole musician (or nearly
so). Not that the rest of the album is without
interest, far from it, and if one looks for soft,
melodic songs with nice guitar and percussion, and can
mind the Polnareff-styled mode of singing, this is a
decent collection of songs. One must give a special
mention to the crystal clear sound of the recording.
Not bad for a self-produced album.
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