(All Album Reviews by Epilepticgibbon)
The Very Large Structure of Universe Orchestra is rather a grand name for a duo. That duo, Manel Bigot (guitar/drums/programming/cornet) and Jean-Marc Wadel (bass/prepared guitar/piano/programming/voice), try to make things easier for themselves and everyone else by abbreviating their name to T.V.La.S.Un.Or, though even that doesn’t trip off the tongue as easily as say, Coldplay or the Scissor Sisters. Which is a pity because Grand Hall is an album that is really rather worth hearing.
As you might have guessed from their names, Bigot and Wadel are French and T.V.La.S.Un.Or have been described as a kind of French Godspeed You Black Emperor, which is a rather limiting and unfair description of the music they produce. While some tracks do sound a bit like the post-rock of GYBE (e.g. “Grand Hall” and “Scarabaeidae”) the T.V.La.S.Un.Or sound is not limited to that by any means plus, on this album at least, they rarely produce the kind of lengthy, slow-burning epics that GYBE are best known for.
The first track, for example, has a sort of whimsical French pop edge to it that could make you think of the likes of Air or Mellow, but it also has a grand orchestral scope to it (it’s also really the only proper vocal track on the album), and then it ends suddenly, merging into the short and quirky prog-tinged instrumental “K.28”.
Third track “Grand Hall”, continues to bring together elements of classical, prog rock and post-rock in a surprisingly convincing way, before there’s a complete shift in style with the three-part track “Andres Jose Ruiz”, which has a kind of spaghetti-western-meets-surf-rock feel to it, largely thanks to the energetic and constantly varying guitar styles that are on display throughout. This piece is not, on the whole, quite like anything I’ve ever heard before, even though the elements it’s drawing from are frequently familiar. It’s a testament to the compositional skills of Bigot and Wadel that they’re able to keep everything fresh sounding even though they’re drawing on elements that everyone knows. And “Andres Jose Ruiz” blends effortlessly into the oddball electronica and classical piano of “T.V.La.S.Un.Or”.
There’s a surprisingly rocking riff to next track, “Scarabaeidae” and the combination of that and the use of what I think is a distorted violin makes it sound like one of the louder passages from a GYBE track or maybe something from David Cross’ time with King Crimson.
Another surprise arrives with the seventh track, simple titled “F. b.”, as it’s the most classical-sounding piece on the album so far. There are a few sparse electronics but it’s predominantly an extremely lovely but melancholic classical piano track.
The classical theme is continued with the penultimate track “Dear Michael”, which appears to contain no electronics whatsoever (though I could be wrong). It’s basically a punchy duet between piano and what I think is a cello, and it reminds me of some of the stuff that Philip Glass has written for strings.
The final track, “Inuit Song”, also has a slight classical feel to it and it’s another duet, this time between piano and dreamy guitar, the latter reminding me a little of something John Williams (the guitarist rather than the composer of film music) might come up with. In fact this could even be a missing Sky track, reminiscent as it is of that band’s ability to merge the classical with the contemporary, or perhaps something from Vangelis.
To my knowledge, Grand Hall never had a proper release outside of France, or at least if it did then it was poorly promoted. But it certainly deserved better promotion, as it’s something of a hidden gem. Moving from almost Air or Mellow-like material at its opening, taking in prog rock, post rock and classical music along the way, with something of a nod towards GYBE, and ending with something that could have been written by Sky or Vangelis… well this is clearly not the sort of album you encounter every day. About as close to a unique listening experience as I’ve had for a long time, this album is a real treat.
Best tracks: “K.28”, “T.V.La.S.Un.Or”, “Scarabaeidae”, “F. b.”, “Inuit Song”.