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Debile Menthol

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Even for aficionados of European avant rock of the ’70s and ’80s, certainly a specialized batch of listeners, the Swiss ensemble Débile Menthol could be considered a cult band. One might think that their rather user-friendly brand of avant-gardism would have led to a reasonably sizable audience, but alas, that was not to be the case. Nevertheless, several bandmembers persevered during the following decades straight into the 2000s, and the music of these artists — while remaining known only to a small audience worldwide — remains some of the most engaging and satisfying blends of the modern and traditional to be heard anywhere.

Forming in Neuchatel, Switzerland, the first incarnation of Débile Menthol featured a nine-person lineup on saxophone, violin, clarinet, guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion, drums, and vocals, a somewhat unwieldy crew of multi-instrumentalists who performed in a Rock in Opposition-influenced style. In fact, the band released its first album, Emile au Jardin Patrologique (recorded in Kirchberg, Switzerland, in October 1981) as the first vinyl LP of the Zurich-based RecRec Music, affiliated with the British Recommended Records label founded by Chris Cutler in 1978. While incorporating experimental elements informed by such RIO bands as Henry Cow, Univers Zero, and Art Zoyd, Emile au Jardin Patrologique also revealed Débile Menthol to be a group with a decidedly lighter and even fun-loving approach, perhaps akin to another RIO band, Sweden’s Samla Mammas Manna. But in fact, one might also hear the influence of new wave party bands in Débile Menthol’s multi-layered yet high-spirited music — imagine a mash-up of Henry Cow and the B-52’s, as hard as that might be to fathom.

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