ALBUM REVIEW: Le Grand Sbam – Furvent (Dur et Doux) – This time we were kind of expecting it, this time we were expecting something special. Last time around it was a bolt out of the blue, a band we’d never heard before, a healthy shock to the system and yes that last album was one of the vital releases of last year. This time around we we’re expecting it, this time around we we’re expectant, and really the question of could they do it again never really cross our minds. There’s been pieces from the album let loose over the last couple of weeks, videos, flavours, taster tracks, there’s been those three advance slices on the Bandcamp page that we’ve (mostly) resisted really listening to over the last couple of weeks. Can’t have it in small chunks, this is surely about an album? This surely about the art of an album, the act of making one, about a whole body of work, about a whole, one whole thing.
This is about a classic album, about a progressively experimental rock album (actually is it even a rock album?) and in a perfect world we’d be on the top deck of the bus, gatefold in hand reading the lyrics on the way home from the record shop and wanting the journey to go faster so we can get the vinyl out of the sleeve and on to the record player the moment we got in. This is a proper album. La Trace is a (not so) tiny epic in itself, an eighteen minute operatic prog rock epic to open proceedings, a classical slice of avant-rock that has more crammed into it than most triple albums do, not that La Trace is crammed or cluttered, not a single hint of a note of indulgence, every single tiny bit of sound (or space between sounds) matters, every insect running along a piano keyboard, ever operatic note sung, every stroke of the drum, every carefully structured second. Furvent is a lean album, a focussed piece of work, this is concise, this is wonderfully self indulgent This is thrilling, this is sublime, cleverly constructed. And yes it is very operatic, but not in that pompous Queen way of things, this is really is avant classical music flavoured with traits of really progressive rock, it feels a like an adventure, if feels like the sentences should never end, that the punctuation should run away with it all but it is so perfectly put together, so considered, so allez!
Parts of Furvent brood, sometimes it rushes, urgent now and again. At times it gallops, sometimes it trots, it does brood now and again, a French tragedy? What are they singing about? It is very much about the percussion and they keys running around the drums and the brush marks and the oil paint, thee vocals never take over, they’re never on top, they’re a perfect part of it all. Are they’re like some crazed French film that you don’t need a screen for? Are the moving pictures there in the music. There’s lumps of Stravinsky, hints of Jaws, of Magma, Henry Cow, Koenjihyakkei, of going off and things, is this even a rock album? Is this beyond ideas of mere rock and the ideas of what is or isn’t rock? As they say, “Carved in the continuous flow of sound, the music of the ensemble is a de-fluence, a circumvention, an inflection of air and time. An impetuous flow of sound defying musical boundaries”. Other Rock maybe? Does it matter what it is? This is a gentle giant of an album (that sometimes maybe isn’t that gentle) and no, never ever crazed, never ever mad, never strange, okay slightly strange, never too strange. What is the Grand Sbam? Learned music played by ignorant people? Don’t ask us. Beth yw’r Grand Sbam? Cerddoriaeth ddysgedig yn cael ei chwarae gan bobl anwybodus. “Scholarly music played by ignorant people?” Surely not, far from ignorant surely?
There’s eight of them playing with all kinds of percussion and Mellotron warmth and bass guitars and Moogs and drums and piano, lots of piano and electric piano and strange bells and gongs and two voices in tandem out front of all the other voices and “Le Grand Sbam is a collective of creation, research and musical experimentation that defends living music in all its richness, complexity and universality” – they’re from Lyon, France, they could only be from France.
The album is out this week, the second week of December, some music publications have stupidly gone too early and published their albums of the year lists already. Furvent is without a doubt one of the most significant albums of the year, it probably is a step up from the delight’s of last year, too early to really say, they certainly haven’t let is down through. Every piece is vital everything about Furvent is alive, every second is glorious, a glorious operatic treat, properly avant garde, a French masterpiece (it could only be French, dare I say some of it is traditionally French?). You really really do need to hear it all at once if you can though, you do need to try and ration yourself and wait until you get to spend time unwrapping the whole thing at once (sw)