AKSAK MABOUL-FIGURES.

Aksak Maboul-Figures.

Label: Crammed Discs. 

Nowadays, there aren’t many bands that are still together and releasing new albums after five decades. The same can be said of record labels founded in the seventies. Sadly, bands and record labels aren’t enjoying the same longevity in the modern music business. 

All too often, bands release a couple of moderately successful albums that find favour with critics who forecast a bright future for the group and the label that released the album. Then, within a couple of years, the band and the label are no more. They’re a mere footnote in musical history, and remembered fondly by a coterie of tastemakers and musical connoisseurs who mourn their passing. Longevity in the modern music business is it seems a thing of the past. Or is it?

Some bands and labels that were founded in the late-seventies are still going strong. They tend to be releasing ambitious, influential and innovative music. That is the case with the Belgian label Crammed Discs, which was formed by Marc Hollander who also cofounded the group Aksak Maboul with Vincent Kenis. They’re back with Figures, the new album from Aksak Maboul and the latest chapter in a story that began in 1977. 

That was when Marc Hollander and Vincent Kenis founded Belgian avant-garde rock band Aksak Maboul. Marc played keyboards, reeds and percussion, while Vincent played guitar, bass guitar and keyboards. Later, keyboardist Marc Moulin joined Aksak Maboul. So did percussionist and keyboardist  Chris Joris. This was the lineup that recorded Aksak Maboul’s debut album Onze Danses Pour Combattre la Migraine.

Onze Danses Pour Combattre La Migraine.

The recording of Onze Danses Pour Combattre La Migraine began in April 1977. Although Aksak Maboul worked quickly, it still took them two months to finish their debut album.

Mostly, this genre-defying album was the work of Marc Hollander. That was why Onze Danses Pour Combattre La Migraine was credited to Marc Hollander and Aksak Maboul when it was released in 1977, on the Belgian label Kamikaze. 

Upon its release, Onze Danses Pour Combattre La Migraine was well received by critics. It was an ambitious, adventurous and groundbreaking album where genres literally melted into one. This included avant-garde, classical music, electronica free jazz, progressive rock, rock and world music. There was more than a nod to Frank Zappa, minimalism and Captain Beefheart on an album that would eventually, become a cult classic.

Sadly, like so many groundbreaking albums Onze Danses Pour Combattre la Migraine didn’t find the audience it deserves upon its release. It was only later after it was reappraised and rediscovered by everyone from critics and cultural commentators to fans of progressive rock. They delved deep into Onze Danses Pour Combattre la Migraine and somewhat belatedly discovered its eclectic delights. Little did Aksak Maboul realise the effect their debut album would eventually have. Back in 1977, all Aksak Maboul were interested in doing was recording their sophomore album, Un Peu de l’Ame des Bandits.

Un Peu de l’Ame des Bandits.

Towards the end of 1977, Aksak Maboul decided to start playing live.This marked the start of a new chapter in the Aksak Maboul story. However, not long after this, the band’s line up changed.

Marc Moulin and Chris Joris both decided to leave Aksak Maboul. They were replaced by percussionist and keyboardist Frank Wuyts who was the first of a number of new addition’s to the band’s lineup.

Not long after this, cellist Denis van Hecke joined Aksak Maboul. The next addition was Michel Berckmans, who played oboe and bassoon. He had left Belgian progressive band Univers Zéro. This wasn’t the end of the changes in Aksak Maboul’s lineup.

At the start of 1979, Henry Cow had just split-up and Chris Cutler and Fred Frith were asked to join Aksak Maboul. They agreed to do so, and Aksak Maboul started work on their sophomore album, Un Peu de l’Ame des Bandits.

This involved a trip to Switzerland where recording of Un Peu de l’Ame des Bandits took place at Sunrise Studio, Kirchberg, St. Gallen. It was here that Aksak Maboul pushed musical boundaries even further than they had before. 

The music Un Peu de l’Ame des Bandits took on a new intensity and complexity. It veered towards avant-garde and experimental. Again, musical genres melted into one on Un Peu de l’Ame des Bandits. Everything from ambient and chamber rock to punk, tangos and Turkish music.  It was a very different album from Aksak Maboul. That wasn’t the end of the differences.

Forever determined to innovate, Aksak Maboul used sampling for the first time on Un Peu de l’Ame des Bandits. However, there was a problem. Samplers were relatively new. They were still prohibitively expensive, and way outside the budget of most groups. That wouldn’t stop Aksak Maboul making use of sampling. 

Instead, Aksak Maboul had to improvise which was all part of Aksak Maboul’s determination to make music that was ambitious, innovative and unique. They wanted to be trailblazers, rather than following in other group’s wakes. That proved to the case on Un Peu de l’Ame des Bandits.

When Un Peu de l’Ame des Bandits was released in 1980, it was on a different label, Crammed Discs. It had been founded by Marc Hollander and one of the nascent label’s first releases was Un Peu de l’Ame des Bandits. The album received favourable reviews and was an underground album. Those who heard the album marvelled at a complex, compelling, eclectic and innovative genre-melting album. 

With such a wide variety of musical genres, influences and ideas sitting side-by-side on Un Peu de l’Ame des Bandits, it was an album that  could just as easily not have worked. However, it did. With every listen some new subtitles or nuances would shine through. It was a compelling and beguiling album. Critics, cultural commentators and music lovers awaited Aksak Maboul’s next step. They were in for a surprise.

The Honeymoon Killers-Les Tueurs De La Lune De Miel.

The Honeymoon Killers-Les Tueurs De La Lune De Miel.

In early 1980, Marc Hollander and Vincent Kenis, the two founding members of Aksak Maboul left the band. They decided to join forces with Yvon Vromman, JF Jones Jacob, and Gérald Fenerberg of Les Tueurs de la Lune de Miel in a new band. The new band they called The Honeymoon Killers. The only thing missing was a lead singer. 

This is where Véronique Vincent came in. She became the final piece in the musical jigsaw when joined The Honeymoon Killers.

They headed out on tour in 1980 and 1981. Witth two bands and a vocalist becoming one they had to hone their sound. Just Aksak Maboul The Honeymoon Killers were pioneers. 

They were one the first to use pre-recorded drum machine loops which they played on cassette. This was just the starting point. Layers of bass, drums, guitar, percussion and tinny organ sounds provided a backdrop for the vocals. The music was experimental and some of their songs lasted nearly twenty minutes. It seemed that The Honeymoon Killerswere determined to do things their way.

This extended to The Honeymoon Killers’ setlist. They switched seamlessly between from free jazz and French chanson, to punk and rockabilly. Each musical genre was interpreted by The Honeymoon Killers in their own unique way. During these concerts, The Honeymoon Killers found their sound. Now the new lineup of The Honeymoon Killers were ready to release some new music.

Later in 1981, the new lineup of The Honeymoon Killers released cover of Charles Trenet Route Nationale 7 as a single. It was a hit in France and Belgium. So The Honeymoon Killers headed into the studio, to release what was their sophomore album, Les Tueurs de la Lune de Miel.

Having recorded  Les Tueurs de la Lune de Miel at various studios across Europe, the album was released on Crammed Records in 1982. Reviews ranged from positive to critically acclaimed as The Honeymoon Killers’ unique and quirky brand of genre hopping music, was winning friends and influencing people.

This proved to be the case. In Belgium, France, Germany and Britain,  Les Tueurs de la Lune de Miel sold relatively well. It became something of a cult album. Considering this was the first album by the new lineup of The Honeymoon Killers, it looked like they were going places. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.

Never again, would The Honeymoon Killers release another album and their only singles was 1982s Décollage. However, their legacy was Les Tueurs de la Lune de Miel, which is hailed as the best Belgian rock album ever. However, eventually, The Honeymoon Killers would return.

Ex-Futur Album.

Although Marc Hollander and Vincent Kenis, the two original members of Aksak Maboul left the band, the Aksak Maboul story wasn’t over. The band began working on their their third album in 1980, and over the next three, years recorded ten tracks. This wasn’t just an Aksak Maboul album though. It was a collaboration between the great and good of Belgian progressive music. 

Vocalist Veronique Vincent and The Honeymoon Killers joined Aksak Maboul in the studio. Right up until 1983, this all-star cast of Belgian musicians were working on album that sadly, was never completed. The project ground to a halt in 1983 and it looked like the album would never be released.

That album lay in the Crammed Discs vaults until 2014 when it was rediscovered. It featured ten tracks, including nine penned by Marc Hollander and Veronique Vincent. The other track was a cover My Kind Of Doll. These tracks became the Ex-Futur Album.

When the Ex-Futur Album was released in 2014, it was hailed as an ambitious and innovative album where musical boundaries were pushed to their limits and sometimes, it seemed way beyond. Even in its unfinished form, it was a reminder of what Veronique Vincent and Aksak Maboul with The Honeymoon Killers were capable of in their early eighties glory days. 

Veronique Vincent and Aksak Maboul, 16 Visions Of Ex-Futur.

Two years later, in 2016, Crammed Discs released Veronique Vincent and Aksak Maboul, 16 Visions Of Ex-Futur. It was a celebration of the music on the Ex-Futur Album which was reimagined and reinvented by the likes of Jaakko Eino, Forever Pavot, Marc Collin, Laetitia Sadder, Lena Willikens, Bullion, Flavien Berg, Aquaserge, Capitol K, Hello Skinny and Burnt Friedman.

They were responsible for captivating and innovative reworks, remixes and covers of an avant pop classic which won over critics. For their fans the album was a welcome addition to the Aksak Maboul discography.

Before And After Bandits (Documents 1977-1980, 2015).

So was Before And After Bandits (Documents 1977-1980, 2015) a limited edition album of rarities released on Crammed Discs in 2018. It featured demos, lo-fi live recordings and music that was described “strange, wild & often shambolic.”  These tracks were from the first five phases of the Aksak Maboul story.  Many of the band’s fans wondered if there would be a phase six?

Figures.

Some were doubtful and thought it more likely that Lord Lucan would ride Shergar to victory in the Derby in 2020. Most of their fans thought that it was highly unlikely that Aksak Maboul would ever return with a new album.

They were wrong and recently, Aksak Maboul released Figures on Crammed Discs. Belgium’s legendary experimental pop band are back with their first album in forty years. 

The Figures project was conceived by Marc Hollander one of the cofounders of Aksak Maboul and the founder of the Crammed Discs label.  Over the last couple of years, he wrote, played all the instruments on the album which he produced with Véronique Vincent, the former singer with The Honeymoon Killers.

On Figures, which has been released as CD or a two LP set, Aksak Maboul draw inspiration from a myriad of musical genres which have always inspired the band. This includes avant-garde, chamber pop, contemporary classical, delta blues, electronica and experimental music, jazz, minimalism, pop, psychedelia and ye-ye. There’s also elements of Turkish and  Polynesian on this genre melting album. It’s  an absorbing and thought-provoking album where Aksak Maboul explore gender dynamics over twenty-two tracks.

These tracks were recorded over a couple of years and find Aksak Maboul combining acoustic and electronic instruments as they program beats and songs. They also deploy found objects and improvise and create sound collages on an imaginative album that features secret passages and interconnections. The result isn’t an album for those with a short attention span. Instant gratification it’s not.

Instead, Figures is a two-part album of cerebral music that lasts seventy-five minutes.  The music is melodic, multilayered, full of detail, subtleties, nuances and social comment. 

Figures looks at a world where sadly, the misogyny of the sixties lives on and unfortunately has managed to find new places to hide and rear their its ugly head. The conflict between Véronique Vincent’s lyrics and Marc Hollander’s lyric reflects the album’s gender battles.  

Throughout Figures, there’s fragments and found sounds. There’s sometimes a restlessness to Marc Hollander’s arrangements which feature everything from an  electric guitar and electronic beats to  jazz piano,  programmed beats  and woodwinds. However, for much of the album the arrangements are much smoother than on Aksak Maboul’s early albums. As a result, they’re the perfect backdrop for chanteuse Véronique Vincent, as she delivers heartfelt and impassioned  vocals that are full of emotion as she breathes life and meaning into lyrics the lyrics on Figures which marks the return of Aksak Maboul.

They’re still going strong forty-three years after releasing their debut album Onze Danses Pour Combattre La Migraine. The latest chapter in the Aksak Maboul story is Figures, which was released by Crammed Discs. It’s another ambitious and innovative album of  absorbing,  cerebral and thought-provoking music. The music is also engaging and melodic as musical genres seamlessly melt into one on what’s akin to a carefully crafted musical tapestry. It was woven by Marc Hollander and chanteuse and lyricist Véronique Vincent with a little from their friends and finds Aksak Maboul continuing to innovate and push musical boundaries to their limits. This is something they’ve been doing throughout their career and continue to do on Figures, where Aksak Maboul make a welcome return with the most important album of their career as they explore gender dynamics over twenty-two tracks.

Aksak Maboul-Figures.

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