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coverpic flag Belgium - Full Moon 167 - 04/28/10

Univers Zero
Cuneiform Records

If you haven't got a clue about this unique chamber-rock band, you might check out the introduction of our review of last year's archieval live album Relaps.

Clivages is French for (surprise-surprise!) cleavages. It might have several meanings. There is a picture of a beheaded statue on the cover. Also, the compositional duties have been chopped into four by members of the band (well, at least three current and one previous, now part-time? member, Andy Kirk). Univers Zero's undisputable leader and drummer Daniel Denis has earlier taken charge of all the mainly instrumental compositions with the occasional contribution from long serving bassoon, oboe, English horn and melodica blower Michel Berckmans. On Clivages, Denis has only submitted four of the ten tracks. And, as with all albums by UZ, some of the elements of the music might give you a sense of being cleaved, in a rewarding way! Or is the title a statement of the state of Belgium, the country divided into two, and with yet another cleaved government only a few days ago?

Michel Berckmans' pieces (that seems to be the most appropriate word for his contributions) are quite short, acoustic and close to modern scholared chamber ensemble compositions. They are the least typical compared to your average UZ track. Andy Kirk's 12 minutes "Warrior" belongs to the other end, full of the gloom and doom and drama that characterise the 1977-86 recorded era of the band. A real gem! With Daniel Denis' compositions we are in for a few surprises. His intro to the album "Les Kobolds" sounds a lot merrier and more optimistic than could be expected, whereas the outro "Les Cercles d'Horus" is back to more familiar gloomy terrain, though in an unfamiliar drone'y way. "Earth Scream" is the most frightening of them all, almost atonal noise. A comment of the state of the earth at the moment? UZ's previous studio offering Implosion from 2004 included quite a few tracks with similar elements, but here it's taken to the extreme. "Earth Scream" would work perfectly as a horror movie soundtrack.

Relatively new member Kurt Budé's "Three Days" and Denis' "Soubresauts" works as a bridge between Berkmans' ensemble pieces and the rest, also in the vein of tracks off Implosion, chamber compositions for a rock, wind and string orchestra. The other offering from clarinet and sax player Budé, "Straight Edge", is one of the most haunting of the lot. It starts as a classical violin solo, but soon some ominous piano creeps up and we're in for a classical UZ 14 minutes epos. After about three and a half of them there's a theme that sounds close to one by Swedish Lars Hollmer (RIP!). Hollmer played in Samla Mammas Manna, one of the original groups of the Rock In Opposition (RIO) movement along with Henry Cow, UZ and a couple of others back in the late 1970s. Also, Michel Berckmans played with Hollmer in different constellations for almost three decades. Anyway, "Straight Edge" moves on and even offers an almost free jazz sax solo by its composer towards the end.

Pompousness is often mocked in a rock music context. UZ is one of the very few bands I can think of that deliver pompous music without sounding hollow. It's pompousness in a dramatic way that either gives me the shivers or the creeps. Clivages includes a fair share of dramatic and pompous elements. But in contrast to the previous three studio albums since the reformation of the band in 1997, the sound is less clinic and more organic by now. UZ sounds like a real band playing together, not a bunch of musicians one after the other recording on their own in the studio. Andy Kirk's rough guitar on two tracks and a ditto bass here & there also add to the organic impression.

Well then, one of my favourite bands of the challenging kind has released its best album for ... almost 25 years, with a fine blend of the most fascinating elements from its 70s/80s and 90s/00s eras! And Kurt Budé seems like the man to continue the compositional duties in the unique UZ style if Daniel Denis' well runs dry. Not bad at all! Can be ordered from Cuneiform Records.

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You may also want to check out our Univers Zero articles/reviews: Phosphorescent Dreams, Relaps, Archives 1984-1986.

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