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Etron Fou Leloublan - Batelages CD (album) cover

BATELAGES

Etron Fou Leloublan

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.47 | 51 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars ETRON FOU LE BOUBLAN literally means "Crazy shit, The White Wolf" in French and what a suitable zany moniker for one of the bands to emerge in the 70s that would be a part of the Rock In Opposition (RIO) collective initiated by the equally alienating Henry Cow. This band emerged from the Grenoble area near the French Alps in 1973 but didn't get around to releasing their debut BATELAGES (French for "fares") for four more years. The band was initiated by sax player Chris Chanet but become more of the playing ground of the other founding member Ferdinand Richard who was one of the more experimental sound seeking members who would steer the group towards the ultimate avant-garde setup and mentor of the metronomic where he employed his famous double stops, crazy chord changes and onomatopoeic sound effects.

While the term Rock In Opposition has become somewhat synonymous with avant-prog, in the beginning it solely referred to the bands that played in the Rock In Opposition performances. In general these groups all had a few things in common despite the stylistic differences. They were all very experimental with traces of classical, jazz or chamber rock and excelled in creating bizarre music with great complexity. ETRON FOU LE BOUBLAN met all these criteria but stylistically was an anomaly even within this avant- garde movement.

First and foremost ETRON FOU LE BOUBLAN exhibit a healthy sense of avant-prog with excruciatingly weird angular rhythms and melodies however it is fortified with a vigorous infusion of not only jazz-fusion but a snotty sort of art punk as heard in the nasty guitar delivery and emphatic vocal attacks. I'm also hearing a distinct relationship perhaps due to similar geography with the vocal style of Catherine Ribeiro in the lyrics in how Richard belts them out in the same sort of contemplative yet forceful manner (not to mention the folk melodies underpinning certain segments). The music on the album consists of only five tracks with the first one going all out hitting the eighteen minute mark and transversing many different styles and moods whether it be the art punk rebellion, the jazzy bass driven parts or the frantic vocal outbursts. The reeds also give it sort of a klezmer type of feel at times as well. While all the lyrics are delivered in French, it's rather the emphasis on the lyrics that conveys more of the mood than the lyrics themselves (in case vous ne parlez pas franšais).

It basically boils down to the fact that ETRON FOU LE BOUBLAN share the same sort of anarchic visionary revolution that the punk scene was unleashing upon the world the very same year instead of giving the prog world a big middle finger, ETRON FOU LE BOUBLAN was redirecting this social angst to suit the needs of the current trend. Call it a form proggy punk snobbery if you will, but this musical expression certainly served a purpose as to bridge the two disparate musical worlds for those who felt torn between the love the old in terms of musical complexity and escapism and with the urgency of taking a political stance while being grounded in the here and now in the new emerging world surrounding them.

While the band would first play live in 1973 with Magma (simply as ETRON FOU), they would go through some personnel changes before arriving as a trio on this debut which would succeed in getting them invited by Henry Cow to join the very first Rock In Opposition festival in March 1978 at which time Francis Grand would have replaced Chanet on saxophone. They would play on future RIO festivals and would also work with Fred Frith throughout the 80s but it was this debut BATELAGES that would get them the invitation into the RIO club where they displayed their strange new mix of avant-prog sensibilities infused with a modern punk rock attitude. While Henry Cow, Samla Mammas Manna and Univers Zero would continue on to gain international recognition, ETRON FOU LELOUBLAN is one of the original six (along with Stormy Six) that wouldn't retain as much recognition over the years.

Perhaps it's because they were in a bizarre cross current of two disparate musical movements but nevertheless, they forged a rather unique sounding album that sounds exactly like what one would expect if you hybridized a fully fledged early 70s experimental prog album (albeit quite French) with a late 70s art punk band. Perhaps not as enjoyable as the best the RIO movement had to offer on heavy rotation but nevertheless this a veritable treat for anyone who is craving something utterly unique and a historical artifact that sounds like no other. This one is chock full of energetic disregard for musical norms without resorting to purely atonal noise or angular riff attacks (well most of the time!) Lots of regional folk melodies nestled in the mix as well and the album is well paced with different moods, textures and genre shifts that make it a truly smooth flow that warrants more respect as a founding RIO entity. I love it myself!

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |

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