A History of Space #1: Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes, Paix (Phillips, 1974)

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Catherine Ribeiro and Alpes, Paix

Before I begin this Post Tension blog spin-off, let me explain what’s going on here. Impose was nice enough to let me rant about old albums in between my reviews of new releases. So over the course of however long it takes, I'm going over a list I made of “out there” albums and sounds. Now, I am aware of how lame this description is. Like a lot of the social miscreants wrapped up in the world of music blogging, I really like lists. (I don’t like ranking though, that’s stupid.) Anyway, this list isn’t my top 100 albums (though many of them would make it, you won’t see my love of things like Michael Jackson and Nas shine through). It’s not what I consider “essential avant-garde”, as I don’t really know what either of those words means. Even calling it a “history” is pretty off-point, as I am not going to dive so deep as to include artists who were “outsiders” at their time but since have become accepted as canon in mainstream music (guys like Charlie Parker, for example). So I guess the best way to describe this list is, “Exceptional and innovative music, mostly throughout the latter half of the 20th century, that will give listeners a better understanding of today’s experimental music, and, while trying not to be too obvious with my choices, remembering that obviousness is in the eye of the beholder.”

So before we rattle off farther into the boringness of semantics, let’s begin:

The first album garners the above distinction through no other significance than being the first I saw on my MP3 player, though it does fit this project quite well as it is seldom cited by most, revered highly by a few, and overall is a bad-ass experience. Catherine Ribeiro’s stunning vocal delivery was matched with Alpes leader Patrice Moullet’s innovative rural psych compositions on several albums to fantastic results, but none hit the same level of intensity and integration as Paix.

While they pioneered several genres in the early seventies, from rural psychedelia to prog rock and the spacey ether in between, they combine these elements flawlessly on this record with some hints of burgeoning genres, such as space rock, chamber pop and even punk (the “punk” aspect being Ribeiro’s unforgiving vocal deliveries in part).

The album starts with two shorter songs, the first being an almost cheesy number that dates itself to that period, though its spiraling loops and ecstatic tone give the country/acid-fried pastoral jam a light and enjoyable summery tone to start things off. The second song is simple beauty, acoustic riffing, vocal lines harmonizing with an organ in an almost “dream pop” type number. The next two songs start to push the limits of space, with longer and slower builds and intricately woven melodies under highly conceptual stories of the balance between life and death.

The album’s namesake, “Paix”, begins with some droning space and driving percussion, before chaotic soloing comes into the mix. It swirls and breathes under Ribeiro’s spoken word, building upon layer of layer of carefully crafted instrumental loops, slightly playing off the theme at all the right moments before Ribeiro launches into her declarations for peace, her voice achingly and frustratingly screaming out the hopes of a generation whose revolution was ending soon. The swirling instruments gain focus and steam, ending in a cathartic breakdown that is parts progressive psychedelia, parts revolutionary punk ethos and by all accounts genuine and heart-wrenching.

The final song is a story of Ribeiro’s dance with Lady Death. By all accounts this song is the longest (though it is tiered), most cosmic and conceptual. Under an ephemeral soundscape delay effected guitar lines belt out in a dark and brooding atmosphere. Any of the “sun-kissed” hippydom that existed earlier on is gone. Ribeiro begins with the details of meeting Death. Thick bass lines start to come in as they begin their descent/ascent to the other side, with the primal screams and loud singing of Ribeiro decrying her realization that death is no different than life. All the doom and gloom begins to wash away as an intensely layered percussive background mingling with dense finger picking and microtonal piano lines, Ribeiro’s voice becoming hoarse as it joins the escalation and repetition of the music. It all ends in a cathartic and triumphant declaration that neither life nor death is as bad as one might think.

This album remains hard to pin down as it was clearly a product of it’s time, but way ahead of it’s time. It is extremely progressive in all aspects of the word and because of such it does not neatly fit into any specific genre nor is it easily comparable to any other album. It is at times a relaxing jaunt, others an impassioned cry and in the end an amazing exploration and affirmation of what it means to be human.

This release is out of print with no reissue. Download it here.