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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

VANGELIS: Albedo 0.39 (1976/2013)

Updated: Jan 8, 2020

Albedo 0.39 is a stunning album which 40 years later owns its place in any kind of disc collections

1 Pulstar 5:45 2 Freefall 2:20 3 Mare Tranquillitatis 1:45 4 Main Sequence 8:15 5 Sword of Orion 2:05 6 Alpha 5:45 7 Nucleogenesis (Part One) 6:15 8 Nucleogenesis (Part Two) 5:50 9 Albedo 0.39 4:30 RCA Victor-RS 1080 (1976) Esoteric Recordings-ECLEC 2422 (CD 42:30) (V.F.) (E-Prog Rock, E-Jazz, Orchestral Electronic)

After 2 albums frozen between the electronic and the acoustic, Vangelis returns to more electronic territories with ALBEDO 0.39. And I should say it straight away, even if it means that some of you will throw me tomatoes, I am not here in what I can describe as being my favorite period of Vangelis. In fact I remember being stayed stone-faced when my friend Bernard tried to make me discover this album a few weeks (an avant-gardist this Bernard is) after the release of this album which owes its strange title to the index number of the Earth reflection; Albedo 0.39. A key album due to the exploration of the sound textures of synthesizers, ALBEDO 0.39 hides in its very avant-gardist envelope the first 2 real successes of Vangelis which has knew not far from 50 versions. The one that I'm proposing you here is the version remasterisée by Vangelis and which went out on Esoteric Recordings at the end of 2013.

Pulstar! How not to be hooked by it immediately? We are in 1976 and Vangelis brings the universe of synthesizers to another level here with a piece of EM which is built on a model of sequenced bass pulsations which roll down in a vivid staccato into explosions of orchestral arrangements. Rhythm or non-rhythm, the fury of the movement pierces our ears with a surprising gradation in the movement which becomes populated of superb harmonies of a synth which unites its solos to those keen spasmodic jerks of sequences. The finale, with its monotonous voice which seems to shell the time, known as the speaking clock, will mark forever our imagination which tried to understand, back in those days, this extraterrestrials' music style. Freefall is a small mechanical ballad set up on gamelan. The multiple sequences of carillons and of metallic percussions tinkle in the charms of a synth shaded by a kind of oriental melody. And the perfumes of this melody escape towards Mare Tranquillitatis which is a short ambient track fed by samplings of voices and sounds of the NASA and of the Apollo flights. Main Sequences is a more driven track with a jerky movement of sequences which can remind of Pulstar. Except that the percussions, which do very Free Jazz, and the synth, which sounds very well as Keith Emerson, transport the fury of the track in territories as much stormy as certain moments of Heaven and Hell, in particular with these trumpets in madness which really do Free Jazz. The percussions, which are true by the way, are hammered in a stunning way by Vangelis. Hand Sequences appeases somehow its fury in a finale as serene as in So Long Ago, So Clear.

After the superb ballad, which is Sword of Orion, oh that Vangelis is of silk here (do I hear perfumes of the soon to come Blade Runner?), Alpha puts down the first seal of Vangelis' electronic anthems. A series of very crystal-clear chords tinkle in an ambient structure. These chords fall dripping and weave an evasive melody which takes more and more shape with effects of synth which wrap it of an aura of surrealism. The drums fall and resound, so sculpting an effect of drama which will lead to a splendid crescendo where the rhythm takes the shape of a gallop. It's the cavalry which arrives and makes our line of feelings rise towards unexpected places. The synth describes its arcs of sadness while another line of trumpet adds an even more effect of poignant. Incredible and intense! Its pop- electro-symphonic finale is the peak of this album at the level of the gooseflesh. As I said it, grand! And this even after 40 years. The remaster of Vangelis gives more depth to the arrangements here. Layers of organ, which do very Yes and Rick Wakeman, take us out of our musing engendered by Alpha. The introduction of Nucleogenesis (Part One) is forged in an atmosphere of the Phantom of the Opera with these gargantuan layers which lead the first part of Nucleogenesis towards a heavy and furious electronic rock with a line of bass sequences as much jerky as that of Pulstar but with a nuance at the level of the harmonious approach. In the facts the 12 minutes of Nucleogenesis get melt in a very avant-gardist electronic progressive rock with pieces of melodies in the form of twisted solos which are scattered in the numerous directions of a music fed by symphonic explosions and supported by a surprising play of percussions. There is scent of Heaven and Hell here, as though there is a huge wink of eye to the music of Yes. The title-track ends this superb album of Vangelis, which I learnt to like late in life I have to add, with a very ambiospherical approach. The synth lines, like layers more extended and some very discreet solos, congeal time with a nice fusion of atmospheres where the sound engineer of ALBEDO 0.39, Keith Spencer-Allen, tells the diverse physical properties of the Earth, like its mass, its length of years into diverse measures and finally its albedo.

Is there a difference between this version, remastered by Vangelis, and the original of ALBEDO 0.39? Honestly! My hearing is too much worn out to want to play in these parameters. Except that I noticed a clear difference at the level of the arrangements which seem to me more accentuated, better defined, here. But go to know! In the end you have to recall that this ALBEDO 0.39 is a very important album in the history of contemporary EM due to the signature very stylized for the search for sounds of Vangelis. It's a very eclectic album where the electronic, the symphonic and the progressive rock, even Jazz, give themselves a rendezvous in a symphony of sounds which trivializes, but not at all, this ballad and sentimental side of the Greek master. An inescapable!

Sylvain Lupari (April 9th, 2016) *****

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