Alice by AliceRelease date: December 2, 2022
Label: BYG Records
Eight years ago, something wonderful had happened to me. As I was re-buying the first two Soft Machine albums that were reissued back in 2009, I remember getting the Finders Keepers compilation The BYG Deal which covered the BYG Actuel label from 1969 to 1974. Originally launched in 1967 in Paris, France by Jean Georgakarakos, Jean-Luc Young, and Fernand Boruso, the label specialised free jazz before releasing a handful of bands and artists such as Gong, Ame Son, Freedom, and Aynsley Dunbar (Frank Zappa, David Bowie, and Journey).
According to the label’s website, it combined the BYG acronym with their three initials of their last names (Beautiful, Young, Generation). And they chose the small Buddah which Boruso kept on his desk as a talisman. What the trio wanted to do with their partnership by setting up this big network to national record stores by expanding the student population in wake of the May 1968 riots when a group of students on the Nanterre campus of the University of Paris were protesting against the War in Vietnam.
With history aside, it was an incredible compilation to see what was out there, and going beyond the big cheese from ELP, Genesis, and Yes. But there was one band that really caught my eye from the compilation was a French band named Alice. Mind you, while I’m not a massive expert on the French prog and psych scene, there are a few that I admire; Ange, Mona Lisa, Shylock, Arachnoid, and the biggest of them all, the Zeuhl masters themselves, MAGMA.
Alice was very different. When I first their two tracks; the Traffic-sque ‘Que Pouvons-Nous Faire Ensemble?’ and the proto glam-rock orientation ‘Viens’ I was quite taken aback. It was very different from what the psychedelic scene was doing as the hippie generation was singing about peace, love, and bells with flowers in your hair, Alice was the exact opposite.
Taken their named from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice considered Jean-Pierre Auffredo on woodwinds and strings, Sylvain Duplant on bass, Alain Weiss on drums, Bruno Besse on guitar, percussion, and vibraphone, and Alain Suzan on guitar, keyboards, bass guitar, and vocals, these multi-instrumentalists enhanced the progressive genre with a mighty sword by giving it a harder edge.
There’s the folky elements, classical music, hard rock, and South American genre thrown into the blender. But the quintet, oh they know how to knock it out of the ball park, nonstop. From the haunting overture-sque intro with ‘Axis’ it takes us into a deep, dark epic world filled with a blistering organ, heavy bass thump, and hypnotic oboe-like arrangements that’ll have your skin crawling like crazy.
Meanwhile the medieval-acoustic arrangements between ‘Onurb’, the traditional dance until dawn with ‘Valse’, and the Raymond Scott approach for ‘Le Nouveau Monde’ gives it a real bossa-nova beat that’ll put the band in the middle of the Brazilian sun to watch the sun go down. If you think they go acoustic, guess again.
The ‘Extrait Du “Cercle” (Final / Theme)’ has that Jean Rollin vibe which could open the film to witness the erotic atmospheres in the fantastique genre by showing the outlandish vibes that’ll make you want discover his films for the first time, and put him on the same list with Stanley Kubrick and the flamboyant maestro himself, Ken Russell. Not only that, but I hear elements of the Marshall Tucker Band and Italian prog comrades Cervello thrown in there as the combination between a symphonic Southern rock attitude that’ll make you say ‘What the fuck was that?’.
It’s a weird twist, but it works! Meanwhile ‘De L’Autre Cote Du Miroir’ has according to the liner notes, a Carroll-sque lyric which goes into a different universe by leaving the real world, and walking through the looking glass to see what Alice went through during her time in Wonderland. Now we begin to cook with gas as they bring out the Tull sounds on ‘Je Voudrais Habiter Le Soleil’. Man, do they know how to bring in the Flutes in, followed by a Bowie-sque ascending melody which speaks of The Man Who Sold The World-era while adding a brutal Deep Purple approach with a heavy guitar and Congo-like approach in the outskirts of Africa for ‘il Viendra’.
This isn’t your Daddy’s prog album. Alice is the ultimate cult band that you need to explore from the BYG label. And alongside this reissue released last year, you might want re-stack either your CD or LP collection to make room for the BYG collection. But for Alice, they can kick you in the family jewels like there’s no tomorrow!