Exposé Online banner

Atoll — Musiciens - Magiciens
(Musea FGBG 2100.AR, 1974/2004, CD)

by Jon Davis, 2005-09-01:

Musiciens - Magiciens Cover art

I always thought of Atoll as being the number two French symphonic rock band in the 70s, after Ange. Like Ange, they applied the ideals and techniques of progressive rock to French culture and came up with something unique. Also like Ange, they tend to be very dramatic, especially in the vocals, which are sometimes spoken or whispered. But Atoll are probably more accessible to the non-French listener, with a sound that is a little less divergent from the British pioneers like Yes. They released three classic progressive albums and, struggling to find their way in the musical landscape after the advent of punk rock, one forgettable attempt at more commercial fare. After a truly solid debut as a five-piece in 1974, personnel changes resulted in a six-man group that recorded what is generally regarded as their masterpiece, L’Araignée-Mal, a stunning work full of great compositions, interesting sounds, and varied moods. The addition of violin acts as a wonderful counterbalance to new guitarist Christian Béya, whose technical prowess often propels the band in the direction of jazz fusion.

Turmoil following the second album led to the loss of the violin, and as a streamlined five-piece, the band made a conscious decision to move away from the fusion elements toward a more symphonic sound on their third album. Tertio was the first Atoll I heard, and remains a special favorite, though I give L’Araignée-Mal a slight edge in quality. By this point, the band is quite accomplished at their unique version of the genre, with an energetic rhythm section, lots of Mellotron backing, and great guitar work, both on chording and solos.

When it came time to record their fourth album, the band found themselves in a climate no longer friendly to complex symphonic music, and like many other progressive bands, sought to maintain relevance by simplifying their music. The result, Rock Puzzle, still has some progressive elements either woven into the songs or as uneasy interjections within them. The arrangements often feature a horn section in awkward counterpoint to the guitar and keyboards. It doesn’t always work, but it’s no more embarrassing than the efforts of other prog bands of the time. As a curiosity, this CD includes three tracks the band recorded in 1981 with John Wetton for a project that never got off the ground just before he joined Asia.

These reissues provide a welcome spotlight for one of the great bands of the 70s. For those who already own any of these on CD, the sound is greatly improved, with the previous Musea discs sounding muffled by comparison – Tertio is especially improved. The bonus tracks (particularly on the first album) are the exception: the live recordings still sound tinny and distorted, but they are easily enough ignored.


by Mike McLatchey, 2017-03-09:

When I think back to when I started to get into European progressive music, it was not just the music that caught my ear, but a lot of the artwork, and I've always really liked Musiciens - Magiciens and I dare say it probably had some level of influence on my own art. This title, like the Asia Minors, was reissued pretty early by Musea back when I was young, poor, and with a smaller collection where I ended up playing things a lot more often, and this was one I played to death in the 90s. Like most people, when the sonics get muddy I'm usually out, but I actually fell pretty hard for the four bonus tracks that were added to the reissue. There was something about this first lineup of Atoll that really added a kind of cosmic and mystical level to what was obviously a highly Yes, Genesis, and Ange-inspired debut, and I'd take it a little farther and say these guys were probably also listening to the Grateful Dead and others of that ilk, especially based on the live feel of the bonus material. The music was generally based on a lot of big keyboard chords and there's a huge atmosphere to the music as well as a solid sense of naivete in the musicianship that would be gone by their next, more fusion-based release. Over half the songs on here I almost know by heart, especially the solid stuff on side 1 and the early parts of side 2, and I do wish they'd done studio versions of the live track or two towards the end. This album is almost part of my personal, musical DNA and if it could easily be argued that their second and third releases were more mature and studied, this one will always be my sentimental favorite.


Filed under: Reissues , 2004 releases, 1974 releases

Related artist(s): Atoll, André Balzer

More info

Latest news

2020-01-21
Gong Announces UK Tour for 2020 – Having spent the last few years touring the world, including dates in Japan with psych legend Steve Hillage, multiple headline European tours and festivals, America’s Cruise to the Edge festival, a South America headline tour, and a headline performance at Tomorrow Festival in China, the band have won the hearts of both traditional and modern Gong fanbases. During this live journey, Gong has delved further into the truly psychedelic, exploratory, and mind-expanding side of the music. » Read more

2020-01-15
Carlos Alvarado RIP – Carlos Alvarado, pioneering composer, multi-instrumentalist and pioneer of progressive rock and electronic experimental music in Mexico, passed away January 14th, 2020 at age 68 after a two year battle with cancer.  » Read more

2020-01-12
Wolfgang Dauner RIP – Pianist Wolfgang Dauner, one of the pioneers of both European free jazz and jazz rock, has died at the age of 84. With his own groups and with the United Jazz+Rock Ensemble, his playing and compositions were a prominent presence in European jazz from the mid-60s until just recently. » Read more

2020-01-12
Michael Allison RIP – Michael Allison, who since 1997 has been recording as Darshan Ambient, passed away on January 9th after a long and brave battle with cancer. He has been at at the forefront of the new ambient/electronic music scene, with over eighteen releases to his credit. » Read more

2020-01-10
Neil Peart RIP – One of rock music's defining drummers has died at the age of 67. Neil Peart's work with Rush provided one of the templates for percussion in rock, and he certainly ranks in the top ten most influential drummers of the 20th Century. Peart retired from playing in 2015 due to health issues, and succumbed to brain cancer on January 7, 2020. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Josiah - Procession – Procession is the fifth and final album by this UK stoner rock band formed in 2000. If you are a fan of head-slamming rock along the lines of Black Sabbath and Ozzie, this is the album for you. Each...  (2011) » Read more

Klaus Schulze - Revisited Records Reissues, Part 1 – Revisited Records continues its reissue of the Klaus Schulze back catalog with another 12 CDs. I haven’t quite figured out their rationale, but they are releasing 12 a year covering the...  (2008) » Read more

Kit Watkins - Holographic Tapestries – Watkins' latest effort is an interesting one. The album is divided into two sets. The odd numbered tracks are "introspective" in style with little or no rhythm section, and keyboards are primarily...  (1995) » Read more

Various Artists - Ambiances Magnétiques Volume 2: Hourra pour la Bastringue – French Canadian label, Ambiances Magnétiques released a second sampler of their diverse artist's work in 1997. The disc focuses on various combinations of personnel ranging from solo and...  (2000) » Read more

Françoise Toullec - Histoire d'Onk – Pianist Françoise Toullec leads her quintet through some mellow and mysterious avant-garde jazz on this intriguing album. Accompanied by acoustic bass, drums, saxophone, and voice, she creates...  (1996) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues