ProgressoR / Uzbekistan Progressive Rock Pages


XII Alfonso (France)
Overall View


1996 - "The Lost Frontier" (71 min, "Musea")

1999 - "Odyssees" (74 min, "Musea")

Prologue. First off, many thanks to Philippe Claerhout for sending me both CDs released by XII Alfonso until now (though the first part of their new conceptual trilogy - triple CD - coming soon). It's a kind of phenomenon - exactly so I perceive the fact that this year the band(leader)s of my favourite label "Musea" often get in touch with me, as if knowing that none of the Musea promo-packages have reached me for the last three-four months for some reason. So it's a real pleasure to carry on exploring those really immense archives that Her Majesty Queen Muse of Museum keeps in Her Museum of Muses.

1996 - "The Lost Frontier" *****
(71 min, "Musea")


1. Hadrian's Wall Overture  5:08
   (F.&P.Claerhout, Simmonds, Sindicq, Merlin)
2. Hello You  4:18
   (Auzerol, F.&PClearhout., Lafue, \
    Merlin / Oltra)
3. Mist  5:06
   (F.Claerhout, Merlin, Simmonds)
4. Minstrel's Tale  8:27
   (F.&P.Claerhout, Sindicq)
5. The Ghost's Song  4:03
   (Auzerot, P.Claerhout, Merlin,
   Moreno / Oltra)
6. Lazy Day In Haltwhistle  3:52
7. Back to the Northumberland  3:33
   (F.Claerhout, Merlin)
8. Edges of Empire  2:29
   (F.&P.Claehout, Simmonds)
9. Diving Into the Coal Womb  2:29
10.Breathing Scarcely  5:49
   (Lafue, Merlin / Oltra)
11.Wheelsof Change  4:58
   (Auzerot, F.&P.Claerhout, Merlin)
12.Another Day In Haltwhistle  2:17
13.Heath  5:14
   (F.&P.Claerhout, Dan Ar Bras,
    Dupont, Merlin, Monteil, Sindicq)
14.Revival  3:50
   (Auzerot, P.Claerhout, Moreno)
15.Thirteen Winds  5:06
   (F.&P.Claerhout, Merlin, Sindicq)
16.Anthem  4:48
   (F.&P.Claerhout, Merlin, Moreno, Volto)

Line-up: Philippe Claerhout - guitars; Francois Claerhout - keyboards & programming; Stephane Merlin - keyboards; Bernard Auzerot - bass; Laurent Sindicq - bass; Thierry Moreno - drums & percussion (on the few tracks); Caroline Lafue - vocals (2,5,10)

Guest Musicians: Mickey Simmonds - keyboards (1,3,8); Dan Ar Bras - guitars (13); Caroline Monteil - flute (13); Laurent Dupont - bass (13); Thierry Volto - drums (16); Philippe Rouge - (Tibetan) cymbals (14)

Texts by Laure Oltra (2,5,10).

Recorded and mixed from August '95 to April '96 at "Le Donion" studio, Bordeaux, France. Produced by XII Alfonso.

As mentioned in the booklet, "In 122 AD, Roman emperor Hadrian decided to draw the limits of the Empire with a wall, fencing the north of England from Carlisle to New Castle. The ancient wall... (is still like an) ...eerie reminder of the far end of the world." So, being inspired with thoughts of the eternal questions at the time of visiting these ancient spots, a few principal band members decided to create "The Lost Frontier" album. Reading the notes of the "mental travelers into the Past" with revelations like "Now, at the turn of the third millenium... we can still see the world as the Romans did thousand years ago" and the likes, it's not quite clear if they mean "the level of human's morality" remains the same as thousands years ago or something different. I don't think at all that Roman soldiers held the same feelings and the world view as the fellow philosophers of XII Alfonso, unless there were Cicero and Socrates among them. One way or another, it's obvious that the band presents "The Lost Frontier" as a conceptual album. And at the first sight it may really seem that XII Alfonso is, in some ways, one of the most unique bands since they "contrive to create" so called truly conceptual albums with the minimum quantity of lyrics. (But, looking forward to listening to their upcoming triple-CD-album whose concept is based on the last 43 last years of the life of the painter Claude Monet, I just can't imagine how it is possible to squeeze into 9 songs - three for each CD - the whole life of the great painter!) But, back to "The Lost Frontier", Laure Oltra's texts that they used on this album has practically nothing to do with the ancient wall-frontier nor with their thoughts inspired by visiting it. Thus, it seems that "The Lost Frontier" is neither a true conceptual album nor even a pseudo-conceptual one. (Purely instrumental albums with 'symmetric' stylistic structures throughout and dedicated to some specific theme are just pseudo-conceptual works because of lack of (conceptual) lyrics - the main (and the only) medium - either conceptual or contra-ceptual since the conceptions of "conception" and "contraception" are totally alternative.) That said about the creation of the heroes of these lines just as an example, please don't find any criticism on the music of XII Alfonso or their lyrics. Because actually it doesn't matter that much (for me and, hopefully for most Prog-lovers too) what kind of music this is - conceptual or not - as long as it is simply excellent like in the case of XII Alfonso. Despite the fact that the music they compose and perform is not too complex, I wouldn't call it Neo Progressive or kind of it, anyway. Stylistically "The Lost Frontier" can be compared with some opuses of such strong artist as Mike Oldfield, but only conditionally. Because, frankly, XII Alfonso's debut album is better than anyone from Mike Oldfield (and I've heard almost all albums from Oldfield's discography). And the main merit of the music on "The Lost Frontier" in this respect is a wonderful diversity throughout the album, and even my favourite Oldfield's "Five Miles Out" (of the same playing time as "TLF") is not so diverse musically. The musical landscapes on "The Lost Frontier" are very diverse and they replace one another in a quite unpredictable way. Although it's obvious that all compositions are placed under a united stylistic basement, you won't find here musically similar pieces strung together. Moreover, most of the tracks here sound quite differently in general - even purely acoustic guitar pieces that are wonderful, with very tasteful and quite complex passages-arrangements played by Philippe Claerhout alone. Mostly keyboard based, kind of thought-provoking compositions, band ones with rich arrangements developing 'according to the unwritten laws of Progressivity', semi- or purely acoustic guitar pieces and, finally, songs with excellent massed arrangements and beautiful vocal parts sung by Caroline Lafue with her extraordinary voice and English lyrics that sound so nicely coming from her lips, change one another almost kaleidoscopically. The journey 'along the Hardian wall' in company with the French band XII Alfonso and their very tasteful music is interesting and diverse - in the truest meanings of both these words. Even though, the sub-genre of Classic Symphonic Progressive they work in, is not an eighth miracle of the world, on the whole this (debut!) album is a creation of already mature musicians that had developed their own original stylistics long before they intended to remind us of "The Lost Frontier" between Future and Past.

VM. March 20, 2001

Musea Records

1999 - "Odyssees" ****
(74 min, "Musea")


 1. Eclipse  7:26
   (Merlin, P.&F.Claerhout)
 2. Odyssee  5:58
   (P.&F.Claerhout, Moreno / Oltra)
 3. Lithophonia  3:09
   (P.&F.Claerhout, Rouge, Moreno)
 4. Message 95  4:15
 5. Tomorrow  1:43
 6. Ou Vont les Amants?  8:25
   (P.Claerhout, Simmonds, Geyre / Oltra)
 7. La Revolution des Oilettes  8:25
 8. Nil  2:56
 9. Invisible Links (part 2)  4:30
   (J.Presas / T.Correa)
10. Tout Passe  4:35
11. Noria  5:07
   (P.&F.Claerhout, Moreno / Y.Emre*)
12. Le Dernier Voyage  2:11
13. Dominique Larrey  8:26
14. En Castille  4:40
    /extra track - live/ (Author is anonymous)

Line-up: Philippe Claerhout (on all tracks) - guitars & e-bow, bass & stick; keyboards; percussion;
Francois Claerhout (all tracks, except 5&12) - keyboards & programming; percussion

Guest Musicians: Thierry Moreno - drums (9,11,13,14) & percussion (2,3,9,11,13,14); Michael Geyre - organ (2), synthesizer (6) & piano (7); Julio Presas - vocals, guitars & bass (9); Antoine Tome - vocals (2 - as Ulysses, 9); Judith Robert - vocals (2 - as Penelope); Sandrine Rouge - vocals (6); Philippe Rouge - flute (3); Laurent Dupont - bass (1); Bernard Auzerot - bass (4); Stephane Merlin - keyboards (1); Mickey Simmonds - keyboards (6); Dan Ar Bras - guitar (6); Stephane Rolland - guitar (2); Laure Oltra - narration (11); Lionel Gibaudan - bass (14); Stephane Barincourt - guitar (14); Jean-Luc Payssan (of Minimum Vital) - mandolin (14); Thierry Payssan (of Minimum Vital) - organ (14)

Recorded and mixed mostly at "Le Donjon" studio, from January to July 1999. Produced by XII Alfonso.

Prologue. It's not too easy to me to understand why the Claerhout brothers involve so many guest musicians in the recording process of their albums, especially since the presence of the majority of guests here clearly has just a conditional character. Such a kind of partnership looks really strange because actually this is just a pseudo partnership. In this respect I've just remembered one of the Arne Schafer (also of Versus X, Solo, Germany) projects Apogee whose music performed by Arne alone (always) comes off in such a powerful and effective way (just wonderful) that I really wonder at his capabilities to reach a tight, rich and powerful sound typical for real 'full-blooded' bands. Incidentally, these are just thoughts that have practically nothing to do with the music of XII Alfonso in general.

The Album. Musically, "Odyssees" sounds on the whole much in the vein of the XII Alfonso debut album, though with the only yet quite a major 'modification'. While "The Lost Frontier" was created with an apparent purpose to reach, generally speaking, the international audience, "Odyssees" has a strongly pronounced French spirit - beginning already with the contents of booklet and songs' titles (yes, the album title is also in French). Two of the three (as always) songs on the album are performed in French, and the only song with English lyrics is also the only "Odyssees" song which is written by the 'guest' authors without participation of the Claerhout brothers. Frankly, it is always interesting to me to know what is a lyrical conception of the songs I hear, though actually 'the language factor' was never the determinative concerning the rating system I use (please see the Introduction to Key Reviews for details). As for the "Odyssees" album, first of all I don't like how both these new female vocalists sing here, especially when I compare them to Caroline Lafue whose vocal qualities are really impressive, despite the fact that she sings in English which is not her native language. Another 'vocal problem' concerning "Odyssees" I found also in a result of comparisons with the band's debut album. With the only singer in the person of Caroline Lafue "The Lost Frontier" looks more integral an album than "Odysees", that was just of benefit to its (at least pseudo) conceptuality with monolithic musical and vocal palettes. Back to the question of conceptuality, there is actually the only song - the album's title-track - which is working this way. There's no need to know French to understand the subject of the song looking at the dialogues between Ulysses and his so long waiting (for him is back), long-suffering yet so patient and truly model-chaste wife Penelope. Having no idea about the contents of another song in French, it is enough, however, to hear the only song in English (by the visitant and originally Spanish-language authors) sung by ex-Ulysses Antoine Tome to conclude that "Odyssees" is not a conceptual album, but at least just a quasi-pseudo album, as well as its predecessor, but even to a lesser degree.

Summary. As I said, instrumentally "Odyssees" is practically as interesting and diverse as the band's debut work. The music on this album was created the same way, according to the same structural scheme, including the producing of the album in general and the consecution of the songs in particular. Unfortunately, a few weak points, mentioned above, have 'stolen' the album's fifth rating star together with its 'excellent' status. But, although all the instrumental pieces on "Odyssees" are really very good, I'd like to warn the band of a possible stagnation in the future, as following the canons of old schemes works the less effectively the more you use it.

VM. April 23, 2001

Musea Records


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