FRENCH TV

BAND OF DESTINY




Published on: 23 Nov 2010

FRENCH TV is back with the sound we are used to. They are FRENCH TV. This is their sound, yet with this release probably (hopefully) we can set aside their label as a RIO band and introduce them to classic prog. They mutated going into symphonic sound taking inspiration in the all-time prog gods and GENESIS in premise.

This is definitely a prog-rock album a la "oldie-classic" way. I'm not saying it's romantic or mellow at all, nor that it sounds like GENESIS, it's just more pleasant if you let me say so; it's more PROG!! Compositions are always tight and complex so it's not the kind of album you put on to have a nice evening with your wife... but you can easily enjoy this music while driving for example because it's straight, direct and the kind of music you want to listen to while driving -  not something not so weird to make you crash nor something so mellow to let you fall asleep and again: crash!  The entire album is fluent and typical progressive with bass, drums working on dynamics and sax, guitars and keyboards underlining the patterns,textures giving you the feeling you lost (or probably i did focusing my tastes on avant stuff only ).

The mind behind FRENCH TV is Mike Sary.  His always recognizable bass playing, ruff and frenetic ( I've seen him live couple of times and yes: he has really big fingers!!) giving listeners a groovy mood and impulse to move; Jeff Gard on drums, this time Warren Dale, Chris Smith and Paolo "SKE" Botta worked on couple of tracks only, on the other side they are supported by Steve Katsikas and Shawn Persinger during the 80% of the album.

Word must be said about the cover... I can't imagine that David Lynch could have done better - a concentrated lady ( looking probably at a regatta or a POLO game in my humble opinion) lays on the front while inside you find Mr. Jeff Gard's face (looking like he has a stomach ache), surrounded by band members ... maybe he had eaten them or thinking about this.  Is it a David Lynch hallucination!!   Last page of the booklet is another hallucination description of Mike Sary private life but I'l give you just an anticipation to make you curious and buy the album to read the story : "You can keep your 32nd-note Ionian scale Mike Sary! You are probably gay anyway!"( and after this: silence). In the back inlay lays a graphic about Federal R&D Budget which make you just think about how your money is spent or goes, well better buy good albums like this than pay taxes!!

Conclusion: true prog listeners must get this!   Last words quoted from the album booklet : " There is a grim dimension, beyond that which is known to most men. It's a dimension as small as dust and as timeless as a sequined bell-bottom. It's the middle ground between artifice and talent, between Doctor Who and Tolkien. I'm Mac Beaulieu, and YOU HAVE JUST ENTERED THE PROGROCK ZONE.

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PROGGNOSIS/Valerio

Calling on the collective conscience of the worldwide prog community - it's high time we paid attention to the great music that has been and continues to be written and recorded in the avant areas of the USA!! In this particular occasion I am referring to the latest release by French TV, the combo led and maintained by bassist Mike Sary. For this 2010 offering "I Forgive You For All My Unhappiness", Sary has teamed up with drummer Jeff Gard and keyboardist/saxophonist Steve Katsikas, plus collaborations from others (especially guitarist Shawn Persinger, who also happens to be his colleague in The Distinguished Panel Of Experts). "I Forgive You For All My Happiness" is a catalogue of real reinvigorating musical experiences ruled by the laws of surprise and challenge - something that is so typically FTV. The opener starts with a sarcastic 1-2-3-4, which serves the listener with an agile, warmth main body, in many ways related to National Health and 70s Bruford (you can tell that Master Bill is a big paradigm for Gard's own drumming style). This track also includes some dissonant adventures that seem pretty coincidental with Miriodor and other similar contemporary RIO acts. 'Conversational Paradigms' receives and re-elaborates a big part of the opener's extroverted vibe, developing a bigger dose of melodic extravagance while retaining a similarly warmth mood. You can reasonably suspect at this point that this album is not going to be as dark as "This Is What We Do" or as overtly genius as "The Violence Of Amateurs" (FTV's ultimate masterpiece so far, to my ears at least), but it is not mandatory for an experimental progressive album to be dark or magnificent in order to have great quality. FTV still rules big time and can trace musical roads of uneasiness and tension at any given time: 'March Of The Cookie Cutters' is solid proof of that. This is piece # 3 and now the band feels it's time to explore the avant-garde nuances further with an iron will and coherent finesse. The bold series of dissonant developments and twisted dynamics is totally Zappaesque. Near the end, a slow passage develops a mysterious aura that is somewhat close to Francophone RIO (Univers Zero, so to speak), really creepy, but right before the moment of deadly implosion, things dramatically shift toward vivacious colors of funny artsy extroversion. 'You Got To Run It Out, Dawson!' starts with another sarcastic 1-2-3-4: more room for sonic surprises, no surprises here. This track's particular feature is the presence of hard rocking nuances in the guitar parts and the rhythm duo's dynamics; there are also some trends inspired by However and Happy The Man (two bands that I have always felt as crucial references for FTV's sound). 'With Grim Determination, Terrell Dons the Bow Tie' is the calmest and least ornamented piece in the album, but never getting at a condescending level. It includes a beautiful synth solo starting around the 1 ½ minute mark (Jan Hammer-style, perhaps). For the last 90 seconds, the track shifts toward grayish atmospheres that outline a chamber-rock element in a powerful, yet delicate fashion: the resulting density serves then as a psychedelic catharsis built with total finesse. That is where the playful 'Mosquito Massacre' settles in for the album's closure; witty, agile and capricious, it almost sounds as the soundtrack to a climatic scene in a surrealistic satiric movie. Even the rough guitar parts and spacey synth ornaments bring themselves fluidly into the overall mood, while the drummer works successfully at gluing the whole sounds together within a proper framework. "I Forgive You For All My Unhappiness", in a general balance, means the reaffirmation of French TV as a relevant voice of contemporary USA's progressive rock. It's high time the worldwide prog community paid due attention to them - haven't I said this before?
--PROGARCHIVES/Cesar Inca | 4/5 rating |

French TV – I Forgive You All My Unhappiness/Live at ProgDay 2009

“There is a grim dimension, beyond that which is known to most men. It is a dimension as small as dust and as timeless as a sequined bell-bottom. It is the middle ground between artifice and talent, between Doctor Who and Tolkien. I’m Mac Beaulieu, and you’ve just entered the Progrock Zone”

So declaims the mission statement on this, the reissued tenth French TV offering, originally issued last year, now coming at you with a tasty bonus disc recorded live at ProgDay 2009, and who am I to argue with such a concise nailed on statement of fact?!

Inhabiting a strange dimension somewhere between Zappa at his jazziest and on the outskirts of Canterbury while flirting with RIO and possibly mental trauma, the band have been going since 1983(!), and push out some fine complex ensemble playing. Quirkiness permeates their music, as you can guess from the track titles, along with Hawking-defying impossible time signatures and strange musical scales that make one’s feet subconsciously tap asymmetrically. If cats could dance methinks they would cut a rug to this groove.

Playful and willful in equal measure, leader Mike Sary anchors things on his trusty bass guitar, as far as that is possible, with some unobtrusive yet no doubt difficult playing. The rest of the band are no mugs either, and with talent like this burrowing down so far underground even a Chilean mining rescue team would have problems locating them, it makes me despair of mainstream tastes. Or maybe I’m just weird?

Anyway on to the album. Seven Rusty Nails starts by plumbing a funky groove before shifting gear with swelling organ (no snickering at the back) and sax playing, setting the tone for the brainiac French TV experience. Just a casual glance at the track titles gives big clues as to what butters these guys’ bread. National Health or Frank Zappa would be proud to have come up with titles like ”Conversational Paradigms” or “With Grim Determination, Terrell Dons the Bow Tie”, such is the licence given to the makers of instrumental music. Listed as contributing vocals to the latter track, “young” Andrew Katsikas’ appearance is awaited with anticipation while we soft shoe shuffle through a minefield of dazzling complexity, including snatches of the Batman TV theme put through a wringer..ah, there it is I think…some subsequently synthesised toddler gurgling at around five minutes in? I could be completely wrong of course!

The live album, recorded in what looks like the idyllic setting of ProgDay 2009 in front of a crowd of tens, is the French TV live experience where things get stretched, tweaked and, nay flogged to death. How they remember all this weirdness when playing live is beyond me, or perhaps some of it is scored? Featuring tracks from this album and earlier smash hits, it makes me want to fly to Louisville, Kentucky now, as I can’t see how I’m ever going to see them in the UK*, but we live in hope. Keep up the good works, fellas!

Not for the faint hearted or for lovers of regressive musics (boy, I like that term, first coined on this site I do believe), but definitely for those of us who like something shall we say, a bit musically perverse. Floss your brain and get your noggin dancin’ along to this little beaut, it won’t be disappointed!

Go to the band’s Myspace or Last.fm site for streaming and more..and buy the thing here!

*Mike has asked me if I could put him in touch with any UK promoters who would pay “more than beer money”. If you are that person, or you know who they are, drop me a line in the Comments section, and I’ll forward any forthcoming helpfulness to Mike.

Roger Trenwith--Progsphere



Prolusion. Led by bassist and composer Mike Sary, FRENCH TV has existed since the mid-‘80s and is one of America’s best progressive rock bands ever, at least to my mind. “I Forgive You for All My Unhappiness” is its tenth release to date. The reviews of its other albums can be reached by clicking here.

Analysis. Unlike most of the post ‘70s outfits, whose music is fairly-to-highly derivative, mining the veins of musical gold discovered by Black Sabbath, Genesis, King Crimson, Soft Machine, Univers Zero (all of which I regard as the most influential bands ever) and other original innovators, French TV seems to exist in a world of its own, most of the time either avoiding any outside factors or mixing those in such a careful way that the end result is barely definable. (So please don’t take any reference points that are available in this writing otherwise than as very relative ones, except for those concerning some of the keyboard leads – to be mentioned in due time.) First of all, however, I think it’s the band’s poly-stylistic approach or rather its ability to easily manipulate several different musical styles simultaneously that makes it especially unique. That’s why I refer it to the Fifth Element, a self-invented term, which I’ve been using as a stylistic definition for more than ten years already – since I realized that some innovative artists’ work (French TV’s one in particular, of course), while embracing all the main progressive genres, Art-Rock, Jazz-Fusion, Prog-Metal and Rock-In-Opposition, exceeds the frontiers of the resulting whole, at times defying any genre barriers in general. Six moderately long, all-instrumental compositions form this album, and all of those fully suit the idiom, albeit this time the band’s main object – at least as I see it – is to eliminate the border between the first two of its ingredients by using the others (along with elements of neoclassical music) as contributory features. The players do so throughout the first two tracks, Seven Rusty Nails and Conversational Paradigms, and also the concluding one, Mosquito Massacre, while the core pieces, March of the Cookie Cutters, You Got to Run It out Dawson and With Grim Determination Terrell Dons the Bow Tie, all additionally contain sections with lush orchestral arrangements, with ones referring to classical chamber music in particular. The main thing that comes to mind when listening to what is done in the album’s primary style is that the arrangements are ever-changing; woven of several solos, all of which are vectored differently, they also very frequently shift in key, tempo, structure and theme. At the same time, however, the music is striking for its absolute inner-coherence, which is certainly because it is thoroughly composed, at least basically. While the number of players is comparatively little (the majority of the tracks are performed either by a quartet or a quintet), there is so much going on here that it’s often difficult to grasp the entire palette, and so I wouldn’t be surprised if one would compare the music to Univers Zero’s. Instead, I’d say it is much closer to classic Yes when-jamming :-) with However and – occasionally – with Etron Fou Leloublan (due to a sense of humor that characterizes quite a few of the pieces). Adam Huffer’s saxophone brings in elements of jazz, Warren Dale’s clarinet melodically supplies classical parts, drummer Jeff Gard tirelessly provides the music with complex rhythms, Shawn Persinger’s guitar playing is always effective, and Mike Sary’s bass is just the perfect basis for all the other instruments to express their voices on top of. Steve Katsikas plays either a vintage organ or modern keyboards (some orchestrator included), always putting in a sophisticated as well as virtuoso performance, albeit some of his synthesizer leads are reminiscent of Rick Wakeman’s. As for the sections with orchestral arrangements, all of those seem to be totally composed: expect fascinating trips into some serious classical areas, with hints of neoclassical hiding around every corner. French TV is a truly versatile band!

Conclusion. Like any of its predecessors, “I Forgive You for All My Unhappiness” has its own specific aura, and breathes with freshness and inspiration. With all of the tracks available being gems of progressive rock music, this surely is one of the very best releases of 2010.