Review Summary: The beginning of the career of one of the best obscure prog bands
Most of the good Prog Rock has lyrics in english, basically because all the classic bands like Yes, Pink Floyd or King Crimson come from the United Kingdom; there are a few exceptions to this rule though, for example we have the Andean Rock from Latin America with lyrics in spanish or the RPI with lyrics in italian. However it seems that we're missing a language that we all love, the language of love: French, and there's where Harmonium kicks in.
The band formed in Montreal in 1972 and would later release albums like Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison
, that are now considered the biggest classics in the Quebec prog scene. Sadly most people tend to forget their debut, an album that doesn't reach the status of a stone cold classic but that's still full of beautiful moments and that is indeed, an excellent LP.
Harmonium's debut is way more folk oriented than the rest of the albums by the band, we can appreciate an extremly well performed acoustic guitar work that manages to sound great in both, the slower and the faster moments of the album. We can also perceive Serge Fiori's vocals, probably Harmonium's stamp, always full of emotion and of course, in french, since the band stated in the documentary Harmonium en Californie
that they wanted to bring their own culture to the english speaking public and that they would never sing in english even if that meant way more sales like some italians bands did (*cough* PFM *cough*). There's also something that we wouldn't see in later Harmonium albums: A powerful bass; Louis Valois does and excellent work with the instrument and it is great accompanying the acoustic guitar and the vocals, because as stated earlier, Harmonium
isn't as proggy as the band's later albums which means there won't be a big variety of instruments.
Probably the best thing in the album are the climaxes in many of the songs (something typical in the band), the opener
that starts as a beautiful and cheerful ballad that then transmutes into a beautiful combination of vocal harmonies and a trumpet, or how gorgeous is the guitar in the best moments of songs like Aujourd'hui, je dis bonjour a la vie
or the vocal harmonies in Vieilles courroies
or Un musicien parmi tant d'autres
However not everything in the album is the definition of perfect folk, some of the songs just won't kick in: Attends-moi
, De la chambre au salon
or the song that, ironically made the band famous, Pour un Instant
, all of these songs end the same way as they started and there's nothing really special or memorable on them being even a little bit repetitive. At the end of the day these songs are nothing but pretty folk ballads without anything truly special.
Harmonium's debut is not even close to being a classic, however there are many, MANY moments on it that are just jaw-dropping and that were the proof of the band's talent that would later explode in their other albums. The folkier sound found in here also makes of the debut the most "intimate" of the band's albums, creating a warmer and cheerful sound that's full of emotion, specially in the vocals and the guitar, which create a nice atmosphere that will make the listener to follow the catchier rhythms of the songs without even noticing it.
While not perfect, Harmonium
is still an essential album for every folk-prog lover and it is absolutely necessary to understand the evolution in the band's sound.
In 1974 Harmonium were:
Serge Fiori - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Michel Normandeau - Backing Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Louis Valois - Bass