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Aksak Maboul
Une Aventure de VV (Songspiel) Sean Kitching , March 30th, 2023 08:49

The reactivated Belgian avant-rock band follow 2020’s Figures with a fifteen-part, sixty-three-minute experimental audio play voiced by a host of collaborators, including Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, Tuxedomoon’s Blaine L. Reininger and Alig (John Pearce) of Family Fodder

Billed as something of a departure from previous Aksak Maboul releases due to its overtly theatrical content, and released on band and label founder Marc Hollander’s Made to Measure experimental composers series on his Crammed Discs imprint to emphasise that fact, Une Aventure de VV (Songspiel) utilises the band’s wildly eclectic sonic palette to less immediate but still hugely rewarding ends than its predecessor.

Inspired by experimental radio plays like those once created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop or the German Hörspiel, the album’s surrealistic narrative fuses elements of Tarkovsky and the Strugatsky brothers’ Stalker with aspects of Alice In Wonderland and Jean Cocteau’s Orphée. Exiting her room via a window and leaving her ability to use language behind, the character VV embarks on a journey during which she converses with non-human beings (birds, trees and rocks), destroys a vast wall and enters into a dead zone that exists “beyond all maps”.

Told in a mixture of French, English and Spanish, with a booklet providing accompanying translations, the album’s narrative is poetic and fantastically allusive. This is undoubtedly a good thing for English monoglot speakers, such as myself, but is also apt due to the fact that album weaves its hypnotic spell more by a sculptural use of sound rather than relying primarily on words to conjure a linear succession of images.

Speaking of ‘a departure’ in regard to any release by a band as habitually tangential as Aksak Maboul may be somewhat misleading. The album utilises the same kind of diverse elements the group have deployed throughout their more than four decades long career (electronica, krautrock, classical chamber orchestral, improvised jazz, Balkan folk, traditional Turkish music and Satie-esque motifs, to name but a few), but produces a noticeable atmospheric shift by emphasising different elements than on Figures. That album, too, had several instances of a play-like narrative, such as the wonderful ‘Dramascule’, but the real difference here is that this current release eschews any instantly recognisable tunes, such as ‘Spleenétique’ or ‘Un Caid’, for a more subtly enveloping sound world that grows more beguiling the more time you spend with it.

The album’s first three tracks paint a picture of the onset of VV’s journey in vividly imagistic strokes – the nebulous chimes of the dreamlike ‘The Escape’, the insistent, step-like piano motif of ‘I Walk & I Walk’ and the untethered, slightly unsettling ambience of ‘Miracle au Jardin’. By the time the squeaky, shuddering electronic beat of early standout, ‘La Tempête’ arrives, it is clear that VV is not in Kansas anymore. Other highlights include the Steve Reich-like tinkling percussion of ‘Talking With the Birds’, the Erik Satie meets Rock in Opposition ‘L'ombre double’, the propulsive and jazzy ‘Dans les airs’ and the emotionally soaring closer ‘Brown Dwarfs’. Really though, this is an album to lose yourself in from start to finish, a journey into a world of sound that is totally Aksak Maboul and no one else, alien but somehow still inviting. Its collaborators too feel right at home in this phantasmagoric universe, perhaps unsurprisingly, given that Aksak Maboul, Family Fodder, Stereolab and Aquaserge all occupy such similar sonic territories. This is an album that requires the listener embark on a journey with it. Put on your headphones, dim the lights and see where it takes you.