Synthesising the finer points of their three groundbreaking albums from the late 70s and early 80s, Rock In Opposition affiliates Aksak Maboul return with what could be their finest work to date, finds Sean Kitching
Aksak Maboul were a Belgian avant-rock band formed in 1977 by Marc Hollander and Vincent Kenis, which perfectly encapsulated the fluidity later exemplified by Hollander’s Crammed Discs, with their debut, Onze Danses Pour Combattre La Migraine. A collection of perfectly formed miniatures that transcended geographical and genre boundaries (and which in some cases, like the proto-electronica of ‘Saure Gurke’, ventured into territories not yet invented), their debut was followed by a second album in 1980, Un Peu de l'Âme des Bandits. Featuring guest appearances from Henry Cow’s Fred Frith and Chris Cutler, their sophomore release had more of a Rock In Opposition vibe, yet still possessed the fun and irreverent attitude that made its predecessor so enjoyable. A third album, Ex Futur, recorded between 1980 and 1983 (but unreleased until 2014) evidenced an electro pop version of the band, anticipating bands like Stereolab to an uncanny extent. That album featured Véronique Vincent on vocals, who had also been one of two singers in the excellent Belgian post-punk band, The Honeymoon Killers (a group both Hollander and Kenis were also involved with).
Despite having different overall flavours, the three albums courted a hard to define commonality of approach. The new album, written and produced by Hollander and Vincent, features members of Aksak Maboul’s current live line-up: Faustine Hollander on bass and backing vocals, Lucien Fraipont on guitar and Erick Heestermans on drums. Guests including Fred Frith, members of Aquaserge and Tuxedomoon’s Steven Brown also make an appearance.
When I interviewed Hollander for tQ in 2018, he mentioned the new album in progress, saying: “My dream would be to combine all three albums and roll them into one. It would be more like what we do live, more electronic, but less song format and with elements from stuff that was on the other two albums. It’s an interesting challenge.” As a huge fan of the first two records, I felt the promise of a fourth release to be intriguing but nevertheless retained the potential for some serious disappointment. After all, how often does a band release an album of their first new material in almost forty years, which has the potential to eclipse their earlier recordings? Not often I would suggest.
Such thoughts, as I first began listening to Figures, did not last long however. By the end of the first of its two discs, the possibility that this might in fact be the band’s best work began to occur to me instead. By the time I reached the end of the second disc, with at least five tracks vying for album highlight, I was entirely convinced that Hollander had achieved his aim.