Album Review: Toboggan – Première Descente

Band: Toboggan | Album: Première Descente | Genre: Zeuhl, Progressive rock, Jazz fusion | Year: 2021

From: Clermont Ferrand, France | Label: Independent

For fans of: PoiL, Dai Kaht, Al di Meola, Primus

Bandcamp

I covered Toboggan’s debut EP back in 2019, and I really liked what I heard. It was jazzy, funky, and high-energy instrumental zeuhl. Toboggan’s guitar/keyboard player, Etienne Mazoyer, is in another zeuhl band, ZWOYLD, which draws more heavily from traditional prog and psych tones. There’s a lot of shared DNA between these acts, so if you like what you hear here, I strongly recommend checking out ZWOYLD. (Especially their 2016 album, ZGOND.)

The cover art of Première Descente suits the music quite well. The twisting, spiral slide gives a sense of the wild, swerving nature of the songs. Structurally, the individual tracks follow a long-short pattern, with long cuts running 9-14 minutes, followed by sub-two-minute breathers.

“Carburature” begins with wonky, heavily affected guitar lines that sound like they’re being beamed from a UFO. The herky-jerky rhythm and odd, skittering percussion gradually morph into something more coherent which draws heavily from funk and jazz. There are hairpin turns where the band busts out rollicking, bluesy licks only to follow them up with oddly-metered funk metal.

Though I can understand the logic behind the shorter songs, none of them are particularly strong or add much, so I won’t be addressing them individually. They’re often improvisations full of chaotic noodling, and despite how short they are, they universally overstay their welcome.

The next proper song, “Zouloulouzou” opens with some jazzy piano work that imbues the music with warmth. This jazz builds gradually; the rhythm section adds more oomph, and twisting, Tony Banks-sounding synth lines crisscross the music. “Zouloulouzou” is the longest song on the album, and it does run a bit longer than it should, but the music is never dull. There are lots of great ideas that flow smoothly together, but it’s simply a bit much for one song.

“TanpYoupY” opens with Primus-y guitar licks. There’s an askew, galloping quality to this song’s opening movement. Funk influences become more apparent as this piece progresses. Wah-wah is deployed heavily, and there’s an infectious groove. By the song’s midsection, it has evolved into an interpolation of that Primus-style funk metal and more overtly proggy and technical passages.

The next long piece, “Rezzz”, is another piano-forward number with obvious jazz leanings. I love how frantic and almost chaotic the synthesizers sound when they come in; there’s a strong chiptune influence on those lead lines. Première Descente closes on “Blanchetta Cavayo”. Guitar once more takes the lead here, and the song’s structure alternates between smooth, laid-back passages and Toboggan’s usual high-energy style.

Toboggan’s first full-length album is a strong release and about what I was expecting out of them. They skirt along the genre boundaries of zeuhl, prog, and jazz-fusion, never quite firmly settling into one camp. Most of the songs could have benefitted from a bit of trimming, but none of the excesses were too egregious. With a big more focus, I’m excited to see what they can do.

Score:  76/100

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