Minimum Vital


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Seven years after their previous studio album Esprit d'Amor, Minimum Vital came back with one of its strongest and most uplifting efforts to date. Subtitled "Toward a State of Joy," Atlas taps the same waters as its predecessors: a blend of progressive rock and jazz-rock, with a lot of medieval influences and a touch of world music from the Mediterranean Sea. But where earlier albums included dark, gothic moments, Atlas is bursting at the seams with happiness and playful careening. The dual male/female lead vocals of Jean-Baptiste Ferracci and Sonia Nédelec hit straight to the soul. The melodies are instantly lovable, although some listeners may find the imaginary words a bit annoying at first. "Saltarello" makes a wonderful opener: one of the shortest tracks at under four minutes, this up-tempo number irradiates a level of youth-like energy and delight you don't usually expect from a 20-year-old band. An instrumental version of "Louez Son Nom!" had been recorded by Jean-Luc and Thierry Payssan as Vital Duo on the DVD release Le Jardin Hors du Temps, but this group rendition gives it a completely different flavor. "Voyage I" is the only track featuring snippets of English lyrics. It is a rather cliché invitation to travel, but the writing and arrangements rank among Minimum Vital's finest. Along with "Saltarello," "Deux Amis" provides the album's highlight: great singing, medieval-esque arrangements, impeccable delivery, and irresistible feel-good moments. "Atlas" makes a concession to the more progressive rock leanings of the band. A good piece by itself, it doesn't succeed in making the stylistic shift credible and, together with the weak closer "Icarus," lessens the overall impact of the album. Still, the group earns considerably more good points than bad points with this opus.

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