A name almost as unknown in their Louisville, Kentucky backyard as over here in Blighty, Mike Sary’s French TV have been ploughing their own furrow, making albums and occasionally gigging since 1983. Ambassadors of Good Health and Clean Living is their tenth studio album, and their first for 6 years. Like its predecessors it walks a highly individual byway, and is probably a more cohesive listen than anything this wonderfully esoteric band has produced in a long time. Staying on the listenable side of the ultra-complex prog fence, but taking in a healthy dose of RIO influence, Mike and his TV technicians have produced a convoluted Gordian Knot of a record that is highly likeable, almost despite itself.
Taking in a broad sweep of avant prog influence, covering all bases from Frank Zappa, to Gentle Giant, Henry Cow and Fred Frith via National Health, Alan Gowan and the complex end of the Canterbury alley, along with dashes of Gong spiced with occasional bursts of Beefheartian absurdity, Mike Sary has composed a fascinating collection of highly intricate but at the same time highly involving instrumental music. Instrumental that is, apart from a bit of shouting during Rocka-Saggy-Baby-Bubba-Shaggy-Baba-Boo wherein someone loudly complains “I’m trying to use the phone!” Oh…and there’s an agonised exclamation at the conclusion of Shemp Vs. Classical Economics. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?
This convoluted tuneage draws you into a labyrinth of hyperreality, where one is trapped within a web that while being a slightly disturbing experience is also strangely enticing. Snatches of vaudevillian circus music keeps the performing animals on their collective toes during Friendly Pursuit, and the musicians that make up the French TV posse this time round are all top players, obviously not at all daunted by the weird musical instruction doled out by their glorious leader.
As French TV is Mike Sary’s baby, and 6 years have elapsed since the last album, the rather fine and bewilderingly complicated I Forgive You All My Unhappiness, it is little surprise that the supporting cast for the new album is completely different, both in number and instrumentation. In a way that could only happen in this technological wonderland we now call home, this new band comprises four musicians in addition to Mike, three of whom are Japanese gentlemen that Mike has actually never met. Mike’s long time Facebook friend guitarist Katsumi Yoneda and keyboard player Ryuji Yonikura are from a modern prog band by the name of The Earth Explorer, aka TEE, and keyboard player Takao Kawasaki is from Flat 123, a group Mike describes to me as being “like if ELP listened to RIO”. Both of those bands sound an enticing prospect, and will require investigation. The remaining member is drummer Mark L. Perry, “a local kid who is dumb enough to put up with my compositional demands”, says Mike, and darned good he is too, as he’d have to be in this rarefied setting. As all of this multifaceted music must have been scripted, and one assumes recorded all over the planet, the resultant solid construct stands as testament to these players’ technical prowess and reading abilities.
Only occasionally does the disparate nature of the recording process make itself felt, but for the most part the interplay between the instruments is seamless and utterly fascinating. The keyboard and guitar and drums and bass winding around, in, over and through each other during the appropriately named Metronome Crisis, to use but one example of many during the album, is jaw-dropping. This is music that will make you think, in fact one probably needs to give one’s synapses a thorough dusting before even attempting this. I suggest Gentle Giant’s Free Hand to get you in the mood.
Along with Yugen’s Death By Water, French TV’s Ambassadors of Good Health and Clean Living is the most complex and difficult progressive rock I have heard this year. If, like me, the kind of music that can only be danced to in one’s head floats your particular submersible, then you need to buy this as soon as possible, if not sooner.
01. We’re Putting On Our Bulldog Faces (and Hoping Something Good Happens) (9:29)
02. Friendly Pursuit (5:46)
03. Rocka-Saggy-Baby-Bubba-Shaggy-Baba-Boo (9:39)
04. Gee, I Wish We Had One’a Them Doomsday Machines (7:43)
05. Shemp Vs. Classical Economics (6:32)
06. Metronome Crisis (10:46)
Total time – 49:55
Mike Sary – Bass, Loops, Samples
Katsumi Yoneda – Guitars
Ryuji Yonikura – Keyboards
Takao Kawasaki – Keyboards
Mark L. Perry – Drums, Percussion
Record Label: n/a
Catalogue#: FTV 11
Year of Release: 2016