Aksak Maboul (a.k.a. Aqsak Maboul) was one of the original Rock-In-Opposition (RIO) groups. They were one of three that were officially elected into the movement after Henry Cow’s original selection of bands (Univers Zero, Etron Fou Leloublan, Samla Mammas Manna and Stormy Six) had explored the style and ideology. “Un peu de l’ame des bandits,” Aksak Maboul’s 1980 effort, is more or less quintessential to the RIO genre, and one that set the stage for many of the Avant-Prog groups that have followed since.
It’s probably safe to say that “Un peu de l’ame des bandits” was and is fairly influential for like-minded musicians. Over the course of this album, I can hear many tonal and conceptual models that were further explored and expanded upon by groups like Dave Kerman/5uu’s, X-Legged Sally, U Totem, Miriodor and others. Needless to say, this album is not by any means short on the quirk, whimsy and complexity that avant-garde rock music is known so well for. It’s a very challenging listen (obviously, in the best of ways), and it forces one to stay alert to the many nuances contained within it. This album also successfully distinguishes itself in numerous ways. One thing that stands out pretty well to me is the combination and juxtaposition of atonal AND melodic characteristics. Many of the melodies throughout the record’s time span are vibrant and unique, and many of the freeform elements are unpredictable without being too jarring. They make good use of noise without being obnoxious. Freeform/avant-garde jazz artists like Albert Ayler and Peter Brötzmann have made some very intriguing recordings, and while I’m interested to hear what they’ve created, it’s extremely difficult for me to listen to them because of their aggressive, nerve-grating use of the atonal. Aksak Maboul appears to understand that experimental atonality doesn’t need to be overdone, and its effect is, in some ways, better when used more minimally.
Broken down into a series of tracks, the first installment, entitled “A Modern Lesson,” might give many people the wrong impression as to where this album as a whole goes and where it ends up. It is an upbeat vocal piece, wholly bizarre in that it is unclear which (if any) language is being used, but does, however, seem to radiate with an unusual kind of likeability that makes me feel good when I play it. Track number two features a seemingly more classical (or jazz) -inspired vibe, somewhat more sophisticated in demeanor, but all the while retaining the strange qualities that the RIO movement exemplifies. After that, we begin drifting into progressively darker and more esoteric territory — perhaps losing some of the playfulness that we start out with, but shedding none of imagination. The fourth piece, clocking in at a little over five minutes, carries the Italian-language title “I viaggi formano la gioventu” but, despite this, consists of thematically Indian fare and a more serious, slightly eerie vibe. Another noteworthy piece is the twenty-three minute epic “Cinema” which is by far the most eclectic and freeform part of the album. It takes influences that cross many (if not most) musical genres, and it sounds like it’s constantly at a loss of control. We then finish up on a somewhat more “sober” note: another vocal piece, albeit relatively devoid of the likeability present on the first. For me, this final installment feels like a “return home,” as if I was transported to outer space and back over the course of my time spent playing this.
Overall, this is highly recommended. It was a very captivating experience for me from beginning to end. For those of you who are fairly new to the RIO movement, “Un peu de l’ame des bandits” might be an adequate introduction. If you’re already pretty familiar with Rock-In-Opposition, chances are you’ve already heard it.
Joseph A. Bremson
The Exciting Sounds Project