Review Summary: Pulsar is an underrated and almost unknown prog band. With Pollen was born the seeds of one of the best prog French bands.
“Pollen” is the debut studio album of Pulsar and was released in 1975. The line up on the album is Gilbert Gandil, Jacques Roman, Roland Richard, Philippe Roman and Victor Bosh.
Pulsar is a French progressive rock group that rose to prominence in the late of the 70’s. And like many of their French contemporaries were exceedingly dark, though with a more atmospheric bent and a profound sadness at the core of nearly all their work. Pulsar’s music was generally characterized by extended suites with a weighing atmosphere and a Pink Floydish sense of grandeur and mood. They also heavily utilized moog and Mellotron to great effect, painting grandiose and often horrific backdrops to the mournful and sedate vocals, especially on Halloween, their masterpiece. Because of the atmospheric tendencies, they are often unfairly criticized as a Pink Floyd rip off, though I don’t find the comparison very applicable at all. Pulsar sits squarely within the symphonic prog rock movement, and their fascination with dark atmospheres mixed with symphonic tendencies, makes for a sound which I feel is actually quite unique.
The group began their career in 1975 with the release of the interesting and nice debut, “Pollen”. During the subsequent tour, Pulsar struggled to build a fan base within their home country, facing zero promotion from their label, Kingdom Records. However, with persistent touring, the group was able to sell 5.000 copies of their debut, which landed them on the French charts and attracted the interest of concert and festival promoters even outside of France. At one point, the band even considered a collaborating with the leader of Van Der Graaf Generator’s, Peter Hammill, as lyricist and singer for their second studio album, as he apparently adored Pollen. However, both labels, unfortunately, nixed the idea.
So, “Pollen” is the debut release from Pulsar, the first in a series of spellbinding releases that would place them at the very head of the class as far as French symphonic rock would be concerned. Along with a number of great French groups like Ange, Shylock, Atoll, Mona Lisa, Pentacle, Carpe Diem, Clearlight, Memoriance, Arachnoid and Tai Phong, Pulsar helped invigorate a burgeoning French scene just as the progressive rock movement in England seemed to be winding down. Like many of their contemporaries, the tone is almost always dark and foreboding, though as opposed to the sometimes violent ferocity of those bands, Pulsar sets themselves apart by way of sparse arrangements, distant vocals and a down tempo feel. Pulsar was the first French rock band to have signed with an English record label.
I happened to be extremely surprised by the quality of “Pollen”, which I’ve found to be somewhat underrated in light of the band’s extraordinary later work. Although, “The Strands Of The Future” and “Halloween” be both utter classics, there is a common stylistic thread running throughout all of the band’s work, and fans of Pulsar will find “Pollen” to be a great album, too. The music is spacey, atmospheric and rife with surging emotion, showcases a stunningly mature band of songwriters with an already firm grasp of a unique compositional style that would see little alteration on the next two albums. The album exhibits a cohesion and sense of focus throughout, a clear accomplishment for a debut recording. All lyrics are in French. “Pulsar” is an instrumental that introduces us into the musical universe of the group, showing clearly what they want to do. “Apaisement” alternates vocals and crystalline flute passages above a bleak rhythmic backdrop, while “Puzzle/Omen” ups the tempo to accommodate the fiery synthesizer leads. “Le Cheval De Syllogie” features passages which stand among Pulsar’s heaviest, with some crushing fuzzed out guitar riffs. The highlight of the album is probably the 13 minute title track, which wraps the bands strengths together alongside some catching vocal melodies, heart wrenching piano melodies and some just enough delicate Gilmouresque guitar phrasings to give Pulsar’s overdone Pink Floyd comparisons some merit. All in all, “Pollen” is a great work and just as essential as the band’s two subsequent albums. This is a nice debut album of one of the French very best prog bands.
Conclusion: Pulsar is a legendary French space symphonic prog rock group. On their debut “Pollen”, the media had promoted them as the French Pink Floyd, though they were a lot more original than that would suggest, with much use of flute and electronics. But, they had a uniquely French sound. With “Pollen” has born the seeds of what would be their second studio album “The Strands Of The Future”, more mature, and that vaulted Pulsar into the big leagues of the progressive French rock, and especially their third studio album “Halloween”, a concept album with an anguished romance and fantastic imagery, their greatest masterpiece. Both albums are classics. With “Pollen”, we could see the born of a group with a blazing lyricism and also a deep romanticism. It would become important, one of the best bands in the French progressive rock scene, with some other compatriot bands, such as, Ange, Atoll, Pentacle and Magma.
Music was my first love.
John Miles (Rebel)