FRENCH TV

BAND OF DESTINY



FRENCH TV 9: THIS IS WHAT WE DO
(EXPOSE ROUNDTABLE REVIEWS)

Paul Hightower:
    Among American prog bands French TV is almost legendary. Not merely due to their skill and musicianship, but also due to the fact that they're even still around. Bassist Mike Sary is the only current member who can claim to have been with the group  from the beginning, and their history is a case study in the difficulty in keeping a band dedicated to this style of music together. The lineup on this album was in fact the most stable in quite some time, though recent news has keyboards/reeds player Warren Dale departing and guitarist Chris Smith's future also in doubt. Drummer Jeff Gard also seems to have bid adieu since this album was recorded, so yet again Sary is left alone to ponder the future of French TV (Note from Mike Sary: if Jeff has indeed left the band, he certainly has an odd way of expressing this, as he insists on showing up for rehearsals and recording sessions for FTV10). Maybe it's the music that causes everything to fly apart. Certainly it sounds like equal parts Canterbury-style prog rock, jazz, carnival music, show tunes, and cartoon soundtracks with bits of ethnic music, all crammed into a blender and then pureed at high speed. The arrangements never stand stil or hold an idea for more than 30 seconds before launching off into what seems at times like totally random new directions. Throughout it all the skill of the players is impeccable, and it's hard to accuse these five tracks of being boring. Perhaps Gary Parra's (Cartoon/PFS/Trap) quote from the band website says it best: "How do you guys REMEMBER all that stuff?" (note from MS yet again: it was bassist extradinaire Michael Manring who provided that quote after a bill we shared in San Francisco). Highly recommended for ADD progheads.

Jon Davis:
    Sometimes I think French TV must be the result of a gene-splicing experiment combining DNA from Djam Karet and The Muffins. Then I hear a violin and that theory goes in the file with phlogiston and the turtle that carries the world on its back. In Seattle we have a saying: "If you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes" (I'm sure people in many cities have a similar saying.) Well, if you don't like French TV, wait a minute or two. It doesn't take them ten minutes to change sounds. But it all mashes together and makes sense somehow. At least to me - I suppose some listeners might prefer a little more consistency. Mellotron-backed guitar freakouts trading fours with twittery monosynth; RIO-like woodwind parts bordering on dissonant chaos or perhaps Gentle Giant-like polyphony; a spoken bit that sounds like Dalek poetry; tempo changes just when things are getting into a groove...these wonders and many more await you at the freak show. There's another saying that seems appropriate: "It's so crazy, it just might work!" That's a statement I can picture being used frequently at French TV arranging sessions. It's their willingness to persevere against the bounds of safety that makes the music thrilling to me. That and titles like "Theme from ESPN X-treme Cobalt Blue 4x4 Bathroom Tile Installation Games" - how can you resist something like that?
----EXPOSE #34, March 2007

French TV is an American band playing mostly in the RIO/avant-garde style, but in all honestly, it is hard to categorize them with just this term as their music is influenced by so many different things. The only original member left from the group that started out in the early 80s is bass player Mike Sary who always manages to find competent musicians to play with him. This Is What We Do is their 8th studio album and as far as I'm concerned, their best to date.

Seeing as French TV is one of the most original and prolific American bands, it is hard to account for their lack of recognition, both in America and everywhere else. Mike Sary even gave up looking for a label to sign them and instead opted for releasing their albums on his own label.

The album starts with a song with a typically (for French TV) abstract title with music that fits the abstract moniker perfectly. There are many changes of pace and different moods, from meditative to furious and quirky. This piece exhibits everything that's great about French TV. They are able to incorporate so many emotions and styles into just one composition. The next piece fits that bill as well. Ska Face starts with a ska beat, but it soon transforms into a typical French TV frenzy. The album continues with My Little Cicada, where we hear some eerie Crimson-like mellotron passages and Henry Cow reed and wind work. The transitions between these parts is again effortless and later on in the composition we hear some fine violin playing by Chris Smith and some amazing Hammond and guitar parts as well. Look at the Bears reminds me in parts of Happy the Man, in other parts of ELP or Henry Cow. This is another composition with great energy and it's no wonder that it's one of their concert favourites. For the end of the album, they saved another corker with an unusual title. It starts off as a great fusion workout, then goes through several steadier moods, but always returns to the original level of enthusiasm.

French TV draw from so many musical wells that their music sometimes seems like a collage of different genres and influences. However, this collage seems completely normal and the music flows without any disruptions. Usually, bands find it difficult to master so many genres and switch between them, but with French TV it seems easy. Sometimes, you may hear straight-out jazz-rock, sometimes ska, sometimes symphonic rock in the ELP style, on occasion you may even hear Eastern and Mexican music influences, while at other times they sound very experimental. I hear many influences from other musicians in their music - Zappa, Hatfield and the North, Henry Cow, Samla Mammas Manna, Happy the Man, Van der Graaf Generator... - but I think that they mainly strive to create music with its own character.

The playing and the sound on the album is beyond reproach. The band leader, Mike Sary, is a monster bass player. He may sometimes get lost in the sea of keyboards and reeds and winds, but when you do hear him, he is always precise and intriguing. Warren Dale is perhaps the most noticeable musician here, with his array of keyboards and reeds and winds. He knows how to create atmospheres and also play lightning fast on the synth and Hammond. Chris Smith is a sublime guitarist who continues in the Robert Fripp tradition of reserved yet totally controlled playing. He also contributes some hugely important violin parts. The final piece of the puzzle is drummer Jeff Gard, who is very solid at what he does. There are also some guest musicians on the album, most notably Paolo Botta (Yugen), who also plays with French TV when they tour Europe.

I think it's impossible for French TV to record a bad album. They simply have such a great feel for balancing the good melodies and the experimental passages. It is hard to choose just one favourite French TV album, but if I was forced into it, I would have to say that This Is What We Do is my personal favourite. I don't really know why, it just seems that they got all the ingredients right for this one. French TV just keep getting better, so I eagerly await their next release

Rok Podgrajšek/ROCKLINE



FRENCH TV 9: THIS IS WHAT WE DO

Tracklist: Colourless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously (10:19), Ska Face (8:24), My Little Cicada (11:48), Look at The Bears! Look At The Bears! Look At The Bears! (8:10), Theme From ESPN X Treme Cobalt Blue 4x4 Bathroom Tile Installation Games (13:01)

This is the first review on DPRP for Kentucky based outfit French TV, but This Is What We Do is their 9th release! Admittedly, their skewed take on Canterbury style fusion (with more than a nod to Frank Zappa’s large ensemble jazz group work), is far away from the song-based Neo of DPRP favoured bands like Marillion, Arena, IQ etc or the ProgMetal of Dream Theater, Riverside, Ayreon et al, but their genuinely progressive, if slightly crazy, approach to instrumental music surely deserves a place on the site.

Lead by bassist Mike Sary through various incarnations (the one featured on this CD has already dissolved), French TV are still producing challenging, provoking but entertaining music 23 years after their inception.

With all the tracks lasting between 8 and 13 minutes, each one has plenty of room to explore many different musical avenues, with many an odd juxtaposition of styles, and numerous twists and turns, constantly surprising the listener. (They even flirt with Ska rhythms on Ska Face). This can make it quite difficult for one to get a firm handle on the tunes but certainly prevents boredom from setting in.

A glance at the titles will reveal a humorous slant, similar to Canterbury bands like Hatfield And The North and National Health, and indeed the music also shows strong influences from those bands too. With a varied musical palette featuring violins, screeching saxes, winds, mallets, guitars (often surprisingly hard rocking), and masses of quirky keyboards all underpinned by Sary’s dynamic and inventive bass and all-over–the-kit drumming by Jeff Gard, there should be something here for even the most jaded of tastes.

My favourite pieces are the Zappa-esque opener, and the dippy Look At The Bears… but really each of the tunes has its moments. I can’t say that any of the tracks are entirely successful and there is so much going on that it is difficult to remember much once the CD has finished, but each time I return too it I find myself delighting at some new flourish or phrase that I had not noticed before. Not for everyone, this CD will offer many rewarding listens to the patient Canterbury / Fusion aficionado.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

DAVE SISSONS 

http://www.dprp.net/reviews/200639.php#frenchtv



Tracklisting:
1. Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously
2. Ska Face
3. My Little Cicada
4. Look at the Bears! Look at the Bears! Look at the Bears!
5. Theme From ESPN X-Treme Cobalt Blue 4x4 Bathroom Tile Installation Games

  Kentucky’s French TV returns two years on from their album Pardon our French! with This is What We Do, released on Pretentious Dinosaur Records.

   French TV has historically had somewhat of a rotating, fluid lineup. On this latest album, French TV’s music is brought to you by Mike Sary on bass, Jeff Gard on drums, Warren dale on keyboards/sax/winds, and Chris Smith on guitar/violin. They are aided on This is What We Do

  Describing French TV’s music to someone who’s never heard them before is a difficult task. There are various elements of Canterbury whimsy, Rock in Opposition angularity and Zappa-esque complexity. On the album’s opening track, “Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously,” jerky, off-rhythm beats flow into relaxed, jazzy interludes where flute and sax tones dominate. Following on from there, ominous bass and synth interplay continue the strange musical journey. The music is never safe, never predictable. That is one of French TV’s calling cards, so to speak, and it’s what makes their music so maddeningly enjoyable to listen to. Much like a Frank Zappa album, you never know from song to song (and often from moment to moment within a song) what’s going to happen and where the song is going to go.

   This is What We Do is a solid addition to French TV’s musical curriculum vitae, and serves as a great introduction to one of America’s most underrated progressive bands.
by Paolo Botta, who adds keyboards on “My Little Cicada.” Their music is 99% instrumental; only “My Little Cicada” includes anything resembling vocals, courtesy of Mike Sary.

----PROGSCAPE.COM; Reviewer: Bill Knispel

FRENCH TV 9: THIS IS WHAT WE DO

Prolusion. "This is What We Do" is the ninth proGduction by FRENCH TV, which (as every Prog lover should know like their ABC!) 'broadcasts' from the USA. The history of this fantastically innovative group begins in 1981; their debut took place in 1984, and since 1994 they, thankfully, release one CD in two years on average. If you are curious to read the other French TV-related reviews on this site or at least to see my rating on each of the band's albums, please click here.

Analysis. French TV is back with nothing else but the Fifth Element of the first water in their bag. In other words, it's extremely innovative music, which avoids any precise definitions, and particularly those originating from classic progressive genres. Although the tendency to constantly change their primordially original style was always typical of this band, "What They Do" this time out does not remind me of anything they've done before or anything else in general. Can you remember how bizarre The Gates of Delirium from Yes's "Relayer" sounded when you heard it the first time? Does this frantic epic still sound both fresh and unusual to you? And, knowing all this, do you really find it to be the work of classic symphonic Art-Rock? Well if so, you will most likely perceive "This is What We Do" much in the same way, despite the fact that no parallels can be drawn on the field that true freethinkers work on, i.e. between the cited examples in our case. Trust me, there is neither snobbery nor dirty trick in these my discrepant assertions, and it was I myself to whom I've addressed all the above questions and their daughterly contradictions first. Many years passed until I realized that The Gates of Delirium is woven throughout not only of symphonic fabrics, but features elements of many progressive genres: from Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion to Prog-Metal and even RIO-like forms, even though the former seem to be prevalent. There is a similar picture on the general stylistic level, much of the music arousing vivid associations with the gold vintage sound of the '70s and, at the same time, having a wonderful futuristic sense. The violin and various woodwinds however, impart a certain chamber sense to FTV-9, while the brass instruments make the Jazz-Fusion component more distinct in places, particularly in the middle of each of the first two compositions, Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously and Ska Face, both, unlike the other tracks, featuring guest trombone players. The centerpiece My Little Cicada is notable for a longish episode with atmospheric violin- and acoustic guitar-laden arrangements, which can relatively be referred to symphonic Space Rock. In the beginning of Look at the Bears the organ somewhat calls to mind a theme from "Pictures at an Exhibition", but not for long, soon giving way to the clarinet and bass exercising new methods in Chamber Rock. On the Theme from ESPN X-treme can be found some Classical-like movements, though it's some exotic stringed instrument (reminds me of Turkish Saz), which probably should be regarded as the main factor discriminating this piece from the others. With the exception of these peculiarities, the compositions have much common ground between themselves, each coming with no thematic sections as such, but consisting exclusively of ever-changing, both highly eclectic and cohesive arrangements. With an average track length of 10+ minutes, there is more than enough time to develop themes and push them through countless twists and turns. Not a second is wasted and no direct nods to the past either! The music is abundant in everything that a profound Prog head can dream of. Best tracks include all five of the tracks present, each showing that there are few bands on the contemporary scene on a par with French TV in their intelligent ability to construct long polymorphous compositions, that would be equally cerebral and fascinating. It's like reading a thrilling sci-fi to listen to what these monsters of Prog do here.

Conclusion. Dear reader, you shouldn't be a mathematician or rocket scientist to comprehend this album. Just give it one listen, and it will grow on you with each successive one. The music just breathes with a living energy, which is always a sign of genuine inspiration. Beginner? At least remember this name, French TV. It will forever be stamped in any yet-to-be written Rock Encyclopedia. Sounds pathetic? I weighed my every word before putting it here.

PROGRESSOR; from VM: May 11, 2006


French TV: This is What We Do

    This is What We Do is the 9th release from progressive rock chameleons French TV. The title of the CD itself is pretty indicative, as if to say "well, here it is folks, this is us in a nutshell". For prog fans, that is certainly reason to celebrate. Regular readers of Sea of Tranquility and of course fans of the band should be no strangers to the sound of this Kentucky ensemble, who seamlessly blend influences like Frank Zappa, Happy the Man, Gentle Giant, Univers Zero, The Muffins, Hatfield & the North, King Crimson, and ELP, and come out with this engaging yet complex wonder of sound that calls itself French TV. This latest release continues along the same path, as the band, led by bassist Mike Sary, weaves their way through 5 tracks of complex surprises and adventures.

    The cast of French TV this time around is basically the same as on Pardon Our French from 2004, as joining Sary yet again are Chris Smith on guitars & violin, Warren Dale on keyboards, winds, reeds, & mallets, and Jeff Gard on drums. Guests include Paolo Botta, who plays keyboards on one track, Pam Thompson on trombone, and Steven Dale on trumpet. There's a healthy mix of the eclectic (organized mayhem I like to call it) as well as some truly beautiful and breathtaking stuff. The latter is most evident on the humorously titled "Look at the Bears! Look at the Bears! Look at the Bears!", which mixes some lush prog with quirky & intricate Canterbury styled jazz. Featuring some soaring woodwinds, intense fuzz guitar, and symphonic keyboard solos, this one is a real keeper. Not that the rest of the songs don't click as well. The opening "Colorless Ideas Sleep Furiousl" is a proggy delight with wild keyboard arrangements, as the band shows their love for ELP, while "Ska Face" really grooves with some danceable rhythms and Zappa-ish workouts, especially from the guitars and reeds. "My Little Cicada" seems to hit from many levels, jazz one minute, 70's prog the next (listen for the Mellotron washes), to bouncy and bubbly Canterbury based fusion the next. Most importantly, the song has tremendous groove, which is always important. The closing epic "Theme From ESPN X-treme Cobalt Blue 4x4 bathroom Tile Installation Games" is a real fun piece, with plenty of solo spots for all the players, as well as catchy melodies and an overall fun atmosphere to it.

    You get the feeling that French TV really like what they do, as there is just a jovial feeling you get from listening to this CD. That's really a characterist of the band in general-they are having fun, and they want the listener to have fun as well. I certainly did, so go out and grab a copy of This is What We Do and be prepared to be wowed and moved... and enjoy yourself while you are at it.
----SEA OF TRANQUILITY, reviewed by Pete Pardo

FRENCH TV: This Is What We Do (CD on Pretentious Dinosaur Records )

This release from 2005 features 52 minutes of delightful progrock.

French TV is: Chris Smith, Warren Dale, Mike Sary, Jeff Gard, and Paolo Botta.

Fuzz-boxed guitars indulge in frenetic riffs that dive into complex percussive structures while sweeping keyboards provide a pastoral foundation for horns and woodwinds to flourish with unexpected verve. Rumbling basslines hide within the mix, generating sturdy cohesion and oily alliances between each engaging moment.

With light and airy flute passages lurking right around the corner from dazzling drum explosions, a constant level of the unexpected is maintained throughout this music. Yet a unifying dedication exists that cements it all together with satisfying results.

The riffs are slippery and slide around with playful abandon, moving from gritty Soft Machine clouds to a hyperactive Zappa frivolity to pensive jazz introspections to more lighthearted outbursts of National Health passion. The melodies are passed around between the instruments like favorite books, granting each performer the opportunity to tinker and experiment before handing off to the next stage of variation. The five songs on this release average 10 minutes each, affording each melody to fully develop, allowing the performers freedom to explore all possible variations.

Highly recommended for those searching for exciting tuneage.

-----SONIC CURIOUSITY.COM


FRENCH TV9: THIS IS WHAT WE DO (2006 Pretentious Dinosaur)
    French TV is a band who, within their music, spontaneously combusts at every given opportunity. Over the past seven years of listening to their music, it's been a hard road for me travelling with French TV, it eventually paid dividends when their previous two CD's finally won me over. Whether this was down to their blind determination to test my breaking point or it could of course be that they are so much better or maybe my taste in music has broadened: the answer I think actually lies within the last two points.

    Moving on to this new album, what another surprise! This is another barnstorming, nerve jangling creation of notes interspersed with, surprise, surprise, calm moments of sanity which really is chillout music in a mad kinda jazz rock way. This became apparent right from the onset where a Rick Ray/Rick Schultz form of progressive/jazz/rock fusion lay a foundation for the whole album. Thought provoking jazz rock, yes, who would have thought it? The keys resonate with warm sounds, there really is structure in this music now. The sax and violin overlaid with biting guitar is perfectly executed especially on "My Little Cicada". I have no idea if my previous references to Tull's "Passion Play" is frowned upon by purists but again I hear it running through this album especially on "Look At The Bears........". This track is undoubtedly a mile stone for this band. The same can be said for "The Theme From ESPN........" which contains everything that is great about modern day French TV. Swirling sax, flute, hammond organ, thudding bass, keys and and violin all bring back happy memories of the great Dutch band Alquin, Solution, maybe ELP and to a lesser extent early Caravan. The quirkier side of French TV's music is not evident at all now, thankfully it has become more serious and dare I say deep, although this quirkiness can still can be found in the song titles that sound as though they were lifted from some unreleased Caravan album.
    The two intervening years between releases has been well worth the wait, French TV have truly matured into a major force within the jazz rock genre. With a tour planned for Europe in September 2006 and the outside chance of a show or two in England this can hopefully bring their music to a wider and bigger audence. This is the second French TV album in succession to hit E.P.R.R. album of the year list. No reservation at all, 100%.
---Terry Tucker, EUROPEAN PROGRESSIVE ROCK REVIEWS

FRENCH TV 9: THIS IS WHAT WE DO
    Kentucky-based French TV has been beavering away producing quirky, off-beat prog mayhem for a number of years now, and this release finds the band to be in its finest oddity. In many ways, they are a traditional prog band, in that they are highly individualistic and inventive players, just as capable of doing the simple as they are the complicated. They see no musical boundaries and so they go for it. The result is a brilliant rambling mess of RIO, Canterbury, and symphonic prog styles whose gravity will draw in any other influence or invention it needs. If you haven't tried them out yet, you should. They are fun, adventurous, and eccentric. How can you argue against a band that can call one tune Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously, and another Bathroom Tile Installation Games?
----Bernard Law, CLASSIC ROCK SOCIETY MAGAZINE

FRENCH TV 9: THIS IS WHAT WE DO
SOUND: *** COMPOSITION: *** MUSICIANSHIP: **** PERFORMANCE *** TOTAL RATING: 13
    French TV have a healthy disrespect for the conventions of prog. This band is all about the music; style, tradition, and convention be damned. Sure, this is, at its core, a progressive band, but the members follow their collective muse and have the skills, creativity, and musicianship to deliver. Who else would mix ska with prog and make it work as they do with "Ska Face"? The brass, including trombone, the syncopated guitar and manic drumming say ska, but this ain't Reel Big Fish, as the majestic keys and dramatic gestures make clear.

   In "My Little Cicada," we hear something akin to King Crimson, from its early mellotron epics to the mid-'70s angular, angry outbursts; little Relayer-era Yes synth licks; and Zappa-style wind and violin lines. All are mixed together in a crazy quilt of styles, moods, and textures that defy logic and hang together as real, solid composition.

    The juxtapositions may not be as jarring and manic as those in John Zorn's Naked City, but they are similarly unlikely and make for intriguing and compelling listening. This is music that rewards repeated listens.
-----Dean Suzuki, PROGRESSION MAGAZINE #50


FRENCH TV: This Is What We Do (CD on Pretentious Dinosaur Records )

This release from 2005 features 52 minutes of delightful progrock.

French TV is: Chris Smith, Warren Dale, Mike Sary, Jeff Gard, and Paolo Botta.

Fuzz-boxed guitars indulge in frenetic riffs that dive into complex percussive structures while sweeping keyboards provide a pastoral foundation for horns and woodwinds to flourish with unexpected verve. Rumbling basslines hide within the mix, generating sturdy cohesion and oily alliances between each engaging moment.

With light and airy flute passages lurking right around the corner from dazzling drum explosions, a constant level of the unexpected is maintained throughout this music. Yet a unifying dedication exists that cements it all together with satisfying results.

The riffs are slippery and slide around with playful abandon, moving from gritty Soft Machine clouds to a hyperactive Zappa frivolity to pensive jazz introspections to more lighthearted outbursts of National Health passion. The melodies are passed around between the instruments like favorite books, granting each performer the opportunity to tinker and experiment before handing off to the next stage of variation. The five songs on this release average 10 minutes each, affording each melody to fully develop, allowing the performers freedom to explore all possible variations.

Highly recommended for those searching for exciting tuneage.

---SONIC CURIOSITY

Summary:
Perhaps the longest running, continuous, A-List progressive rock group from America. French TV have been at it since 1984, and only get better with age. For the first 15 years, they were a good, not great, fusion oriented progressive group who were influenced by bands like Brand X, National Health, VDGG and many others. Some of the problems were typical of the 80s and early 90s concerning the thin sounding instruments (a return to the old 70s fat analog gear wasn't still in wide use). The group turned the corner to greatness with 1999's "The Violence of Amateurs" and have never looked back. In fact, their latest "This is What We Do" is probably the best yet. One can only be excited to know what will come next.

French TV – This is What We Do. 2006. Another new album from French TV. Another great album from French TV. Does the community at large take Mike Sary’s band for granted? I’m thinking yes. Sometimes I think that because they’re “always around”, folks may ignore them more than the “new kid on the block”. I’m in awe of a band who can release nine albums in a 23 year time span, and never sound stale, retro or trendy. They never mail it in. And they are what one would want from a band that carries the heady term of progressive around. French TV are a mix of avant progressive, Canterbury, big name UK symphonic, French and Scandinavian styles, even some of the more obscure over the top US progressives like Cathedral and Mirthrandir (and yes, they would have had access to these bands since their inception). But mostly they sound like French TV. In fact, as I hear “This is What We do”, I recall another elder statesman of creative rock music: Patrick Forgas and his Forgas Band Phenomena. Commercial success was never part of the blueprint for these gentleman. The material they compose is both complex and mature, yet still maintains the edge of youth. We have so few role models in rock music that carried the creative banner for decades, so we must look to jazz and icons like Miles Davis to see this kind of pushing forward as the years go by. Even Magma had to take a long break to regain the focus (and they were just starting to sink into irrelevance in the early 1980s when Vander put a stop to it). No one will know the day French TV stops, but after about 10 years, someone will ask “Whatever happened to French TV?”. Maybe the reunion tour will draw more fans? I hope it doesn’t get to that. Just keep doing what you’re doing. An A-List band for two plus decades.

----Thomas Hayes