Magma‘s first full studio album in 20 years, K.A. (short for Köhntarkösz Anteria), is a reminder that the modern version of the band is at least as powerful as the 1970-78 lineups. The personnel include Stella Vander, Antoine Paganotti, Himiko Paganotti, and Isabelle Feuillebois on vocals, James Mac Gaw on guitars, Emmanuel Borghi on piano and Fender Rhodes, Frédéric d’Oelsnitz on Fender Rhodes, Philippe Bussonnet on bass, and (of course) Christian Vander on drums, vocals, and percussion. Despite the new band members and different instrumentation, K.A. was mostly composed in the mid-1970’s, and harkens back to that era.
Consisting of three long tracks aptly titled K.A. I, K.A. II, and K.A. III, the album features epic compositional themes, multi-part vocals, and a jazz-inflected prog-rock approach. Nonetheless, Magma is Magma, and ultimately only resemble themselves. Unlike their 1970’s recordings, K.A. does not involve horns or much dissonance, but includes long jams. Vocal interplay and counterpoint, as well as swirling instrumental dynamics are the focus. The vocals are catchy, melodic at times, but never mundane.
K.A. I kicks off with a representative vocal-heavy approach, featuring the two male and three female singers taking turns in lead and harmony roles. The words, of course, are in Kobaian, Magma’s made-up language, but that barely matters. Guitar and keyboards follow or compliment the vocals, while Vander and Bussonnet provide busy rhythms. K.A. II is perhaps the most memorable piece, as it features a long section of soulful, urgent call-and-response vocal patterns, followed by an instrumental section. K.A. III is more obviously in the prog-rock camp than the other tracks, as it features a long keyboard solo, as well as several distinctive vocal themes.
I won’t be shy – K.A. is my favorite Magma album of them all. It is the recording that I keep coming back to when I feel the urge for something Kobaian. Vander and company outdid themselves on this recording and created a desert-island classic.
Note: This is a retro-review for an upcoming Magma retrospective. Stay tuned.