Album Reviews

Issue 2016-012

Lazuli - Nos Âmes Saoules - Round Table Review

Lazuli - Nos Âmes Saoules
Country of Origin: France
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 44:11
Track List:
Le temps est à la rage (7:00), Le lierre (5:54), Vita est circus (5:17), Fanfare lente (1:02), Chaussures à nos pieds (5:56), Le mar du passé (4:17), Le labour d'un surin (1:20), Les sutures (6:08), Nos âmes saoules (5:13), Un œil jeté par la fenêtre (2:04)
Raimond Fischbach's Review
On their sixth album, Lazuli continue the path back into a more emotional way of song writing and arranging. Releasing a very powerful and festive album after their major line-up change a few years ago, was rather natural and [4603 battements] has been their most powerful album to date. On their last release, Tante Que L'Herbe Est Grasse, the songs became more thoughtful and had less party-drive in them. Now, going that way even further, the new material become very emotional with new arrangements turning out much more subtle. The new album tends to sound a bit like the old albums, but with a band that has matured quite a lot.

The beginning of the first track, Le temps est à la rage, clearly shows the direction of the album, starting with just two chords on the piano and a very quiet vocal melody. Building up very slowly, it takes five minutes until the whole band gets to play, and with the exception of two songs, that's the formula for this album. At one time it's the piano that has the long introducing part, another time it is the guitar or the vibraphone that begins a song, and so on. So there's plenty of variety throughout the album. Even the tribal tracks are reduced to this scheme, and so the heavy, grooving parts of those songs are rather short. In fact, it is less of a dancing feel, more of a syncopated one. Besides the effect of a growing emotional experience, this formula also provides a better space for the individual musicians. This means that everyone has a point where they can fully shine without distracting from the others.

Claude Leonetti's exceptional vocals can be experienced more than ever, as well as Gêdêric Byar's guitar and Dominique Leonetti's lêode, which both have their parts at the top of a song's crescendo. Vincent Barnavol is the secret star in this set-up, because he has the toughest job in there, to create intelligent and interesting drum and marimba arrangements. But the man I want to honor the most is Romain Thorel. He plays his keyboards most of the time so conductive that you really have to focus, to notice them at all. But when you do, you are flabbergasted by what he plays and what sounds he selects for each single part.

It is amazing to see how this band has grown, and how everybody plays their parts in full respect of the others, each being the perfect back-up for the others, and with everybody passing the spot over to the next so humbly. The way these guys construct grooves and create melodies is unbelievable and the caress with which they handle each single note, frequently drives a tear into my eyes. The songs on this album have plenty of air and provide plenty of emotional space. Also the band has taken the recording quality and mix at their own studio to another level of quality, which adds to the listening experience a lot.

The only little negative is the lack of a real bass player. Claude and Romain alternate the job pretty well, but I think an experienced bassist would bring in other bass lines and thus push Lazuli's music to ultimate perfection.

But then again, when I listen to the closing track, the piano piece Un œil jetè par la fenêtre (A Look out of the Window), which was written following the Paris attacks on November 13 2015, I am overwhelmed by emotions and forget all criticism.
Peter Swanson's Review
Nos Âmes Saoules (Our drunk souls) is the seventh studio album by this French band and their third album in the present line-up with newer recruits Romain Thorel (keyboards and French horn) and Vincent Barnavol (drums and marimba). The other members still aboard from the albums before, 4603 Battements (2011) and Tant Que l'Herbe Est Grasse (2014), are of course Gédéric Byar (guitar), Claude Leonetti (Léode) and Dominique Leonetti (vocals and guitar).

What has always amazed me is the fact that the albums of Lazuli are pretty short in duration. This new album ends after just over 44 minutes and its predecessors didn't last much longer. That seems a bit a waste of space on the CD, but perhaps this thought of having more music for my money is because of my Scottish-Dutch descent! Anyway, enough nagging about the quantity, let's talk about the quality.

In that area the band did not disappoint me on their previous albums and neither have they on this new one. In my opinion it's even a step up from their 2014 album, but I still think 4603 Battements is their best release to date. Musically not a lot has changed compared to those two albums but it seems some songs have a somewhat more accessible melody which makes listening to this album a very nice experience.

If you're thinking: "Why should I listen to tracks sung in the French language because I won't understand a word of it?", then I suggest you just listen to the beautiful, atmospheric melodies before making a final decision.

After having been on tour with Fish last year, Lazuli have gained lots of new fans in Anglo-Saxon countries, who most probably don't understand the lyrics but love the band's music, which is at times reminiscent of Peter Gabriel. I think the main reason singer Dominique Leonetti sounds so good, is the fact that he sings in his own language. It makes Lazuli a special band that you can't really put a label on. Their unique blend of world music, mixed with prog, never gets me bored.

The opening track Le Temps Est A La Rage starts with only piano and vocals and has a magnificent build-up that grabs you by the throat immediately. The track Vita Est Circus has some great soloing on guitar and léode, whilst on Chaussures A Nos Pieds, the influences of Peter Gabriel are noticeable.

After 44 minutes, my conclusion is that this band has again succeeded in making an album that is a pleasure to listen to from start to finish. There is some fantastic soling on guitar and léode plus the beautiful voice of Leonetti that also sounds great in the higher vocal range. Listen, buy and enjoy this album, because it's among the best of 2016 so far.
Kevin Heckeler's Review
One of the reasons I joined DPRP last year was to have more exposure to new music. Similar to the bands subject to my other reviews, Lazuli are entirely new to me. What makes this more challenging than those other reviews is the fact that I don't speak any French, aside from the five years of French I took in high school, which feels like a lifetime ago. To further hamper my efforts, Lazuli have not released the lyrics online, so not even the Google translator would be of help to me. Alas, I went into this review not knowing whether I would be able to find enough content from the music alone to form a meaningful opinion.

Thankfully Lazuli are greater than their individual parts. After just a couple of listens to Nos âmes saoules I was catching moments, melodies, and riffs that were recognisable. Then after a few more plays, there was music that not only stuck, but that had me looking forward to certain tracks. All this despite not knowing if they were singing bubble-gum rock, contrived hogwash, or the deepest lyrics this side of [insert random meaningful lyricist here].

There's a healthy dose of what sounds like alternative AOR [Album-oriented rock] on many of these songs, but exceptional execution, diversity of styles, and varied instrumentation helps steer those tracks away from simply being pop or elevator music. A pop song like La Lierre [my personal favorite] takes small risks, but they pay off. The banshee scream before each chorus fits perfectly, despite it being a potential point of over-dramatisation. In contrast, less unique songs like Vita est circus and Nos âmes saoules never find their wings to soar any higher than enlightened pop.

Elsewhere on the album I found tidbits of the band's more experimental side. Le mar du passé has that dark, edgier Porcupine Tree atmosphere, achieved by carefully combining traditional rock instrumentation with a heavy dose of electronics. The short soundscape Le labour d'un surin has a classic Pink Floyd experimental feel. Les suture contains several Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe fingerprints, combining many music styles with similar subtlety and grace.

It's a pleasant surprise to hear a male vocalist that doesn't peel paint at a higher register [see vocal contemporaries Geddy Lee, Jon Anderson, Thom Yorke]. There's a lot of vocal variety and range on the album. Often the vocals are the defining element in the songs and a standout element in this band's sound. Additionally, Chaussures à nos pieds contains some very capable lead guitar work and there's a peppering of these skills found elsewhere on the recording. I particularly appreciated the fact that Lazuli are capable of playing with a degree of virtuosity, but don't feel the need to force this into every composition. All members of the band are very capable at their respective instruments and as a band they display considerable talent without any pretension coming through in the music.

I would be hard pressed to give this album any higher rating unless I discovered the lyrics were exceptional and the message behind the music further elevated it. There's several strong tracks, and a few that, even with great lyrics, I don't feel would push the envelope the least bit. With it being largely a mixed bag, this falls short of being exceptional, which hurts when ranking it as progressive rock, but shouldn't take away from its enjoyability as a very good overall rock album.
Raimond Fischbach: 9 out of 10
Peter Swanson: 9 out of 10
Kevin Heckeler: 8 out of 10
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