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Hauteville - Hauteville

Hauteville -  CD Review
Self Titled

CD Info
Label: Brennus Music
11 Tracks
Language: English/French

I’ll admit I’m picky when it comes to music (I suppose most people are to some extent), but there’s probably no type of music I’m more choosy about than prog. Oddly enough, while I am very agreeable to the concept of prog, it’s difficult to find actual instantiations of it that impress me a lot. Part of the problem is mood; so much prog music has a light, flirtatious feeling that turns me off. Another problem is technical, in that the music tends to get sidetracked in self-indulgent displays of pointless showmanship in which the basic flow of the song gets lost. I rarely find progressive music that overcomes these obstacles enough to suit me. Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise to come across French band Hauteville, who do a good job of this on at least part of this self-titled album (we‘ll get to the other part later).

The opening segment sounds for all the world like Van Halen with its hard rock synthesizer sound, but once the album gets underway you’ll find yourself entertaining many additional possibilities for Hauteville’s musical roots. Associations that may occur to you include bands like I.Q., Arena, Marillion, and other progressive staples. Perhaps there’s a touch of Rush in there somewhere, and Asia springs to mind as well. I’m also thinking of Starship, probably due to a similarity in their upbeat, catchy nature and a general 80’s-like vibe. But unless you’re either deaf, or have lived your entire life in complete isolation on a small island in the South Pacific with only whale-song passing for music, you’ll detect a huge chunk of Yes influence at the core of things here. There’s a strong connection in particular to that more mainstream 80’s period that gave us 90125 and Big Generator. I’m aware there are Yes “purists” out there who hated those albums, and they’ll probably hate Hauteville too. Oh well, their problem, not mine.

By some quirk of fate, this Yes-like music is perfectly matched by the voice of Cyril Grimaud, who sounds quite similar to Jon Anderson, although a bit deeper (maybe somewhere between Anderson and Geddy Lee). The band also features a female vocalist, Lydie Gossalin, offering a very pleasant voice of her own which, sadly, is relegated primarily to a backing role, only coming out to figure more prominently in a couple of songs. That’s a shame; from what we can hear of her, she certainly sounds deserving of more attention. The two of them work together amazingly well. Rather than contrasting, as is commonly the case with male/female duos, their voices blend together, reinforcing each other in a harmonious synthesis. The vocals are, I must say, one of the highlights of this band.

There are no 17-minute meandering prog-trips here; the songs are short, catchy, and to the point but no less enjoyable for that. There are some great guitar solos scattered throughout, but it can’t be said that any one instrument carries the band, they all make worthy contributions. The bass playing strikes me as uncommonly good, something which ordinarily doesn’t grab my attention with most bands. There’s a great pick-up-and-go rhythm section providing an energetic forward momentum that’s hard to avoid getting swept up in.

There is, however, a huge downside to this album -- my comments above apply primarily to the first five tracks. These initial songs are fantastic, but unfortunately the remainder of the album sounds like a completely different band. If I didn’t know better (well actually I don’t), I’d say the two sets of songs were recorded at different periods in the band’s history, or under different lineups; that’s how different they are. I just don‘t find the later songs very agreeable, they sound flat and uninspiring to me, with none of the fiery energy the album started off with. Oh I can listen to them, but there’s no reason to “bother” listening to them.

Hauteville have a lot going for them, and here’s hoping they continue to develop it. For my own purposes I will think of this album as rather like a five-song EP and ignore the latter half. If the beginning sound had carried all the way through, this could have been a stellar piece of work. As it stands, though, it’s merely semi-stellar.