Univers Zero – 1313 (1977)
I’ve been known to speak of this band on occasion. I’ve been known to speak of MANY bands on this occasion, but that I discovered Univers Zero during a particularly fertile period of musical discovery ought to be of some value. The last time I acknowledged 1313‘s existence, it was to label some aspects of it similar to mid-1970s King Crimson. Still, this album has a unique flavor of its own; despite what the name might lead you to believe, it is not particularly medieval, as it began its life as a humble self-titled debut, given its number only by the whims of a record company…
Now, the music? That’s ENTIRELY intentional. Like any other album by this band I’ve listened to, 1313 is very driven and thorough-composed, although usually sparser and more perhaps not as polished as what would come later. It revels in its own dissonance and atonalisms, which may very well have been quite liberating for the band after its previous jazz-rock incarnations. A few song elements particularly stand out for being reminiscent of Univers Zero’s many predecessors – most notably, the crazed dissonant improvisation in the middle of “Ronde” that would probably be consigned to instrumental sections in bands that actually used vocals. There’s also more of an emphasis on short repeated riffs and odd time signatures, which was toned down on Heresie and at some point brought back for the use of the somewhat more accessible 1980s incarnation of this band. Perhaps much of what I believe 1313 to sound like is a result of my exposure to the rest of this band’s work? Hard to say, really.
On occasion, I’ve noted albums where the quality of the songs is roughly proportional to their lengths. Given their choice of genre, is it really any wonder that 1313 is such an album? My theory that the extra effort focuses such bands seems to hold here, because the elaborate superstructures of “Ronde” that lead off this album are among this band’s defining triumphs. It also shows off the strong rhythmic core that defines much of this album (in part because the first track takes up 15 of 1313‘s 38 minutes. Numeric, innerit?), as well as giving you a feel for the dynamic contrasts this band enjoys engaging. On the other end of length, you have two little filler tracks – “Carabosse” and “Complainte” – that act as miniature exercises in tedium and would drag the album down greatly were they not so small. The other two tracks (“Docteur Petiot” and “Malaise”), interestingly enough, vaguely approximate the more accessible approach of Uzed and future material by this band, but given the seven years of separation and personnel changes between then and now, this is probably a coincidence.
In short, 1313 isn’t really that different from the rest of this band’s discography, but it’s enough so that my usual approach seems to accentuate what differences there are. The similarities to other Univers Zero material I enjoy are enough to bait me into listening to this, and if you enjoy progressive rock even slightly, you should definitely add this to your collection.
Highlights: “Ronde”, “Docteur Petiot”, “Malaise”