What I’ve Been Listening to: Minimum Vital/Air Caravan’

Until a couple of days ago, I had never heard of Minimum Vital. Then my streaming music provider served up the catchy Air Caravan’ as part of a “New Music Mix.” The tune is the title track of the band’s most recent studio album released in December 2019. Interestingly, neither Apple Music nor Wikipedia provide any information on the group. So, who are these guys?

According to their website, Minimum Vital are a progressive rock band from France, which were founded in 1982 by Thierry Payssan (keyboards, percussion) and his twin brother Jean-Luc Payssan (guitars, percussion). Initially called Concept, the band adopted their current name in 1985. In addition to the twin brothers, the present line-up includes Éric Rebeyrol (bass, horn) and Charly Berna (drums). Since I don’t listen much to prog rock, perhaps this helps explain why I had not been aware of Minimum Vital. I’d be curious whether you had heard of them before.

Minimum Vital
Minimum Vital (from left): Jean-Luc Payssan, Charly Berna, Éric Rebeyrol & Thierry Payssan

Minimum Vital call themselves a “loyal heir from the classic progressive rock of the 70’s.” More specifically, they describe their music as “sailing between Rock music, Progressive, Celtic and Medieval: all of this reaching toward an imaginary folklore which melted recently with some oriental influences.” Based on what I’m hearing on Air Caravan’, this all sounds right to me. Let’s get to some music!

Appropriately, I’d like to kick things off with the tune that brought Minimum Vital on my radar screen: Air Caravan’, the album’s title track. All of the music was composed by the twin brothers, while the arrangements are credited to the entire band. I dig the instrumental harmonies, which are also dominant on the other tracks of the album. Most of the music is instrumental. Overall, their sound reminds me a bit of some of Mike Oldfield’s music.

King Gürü is a cool prog rocker with an oriental vibe. Unlike some other prog rock I’ve heard, I find Minimum Vital’s music pretty accessible. Check it out!

Here’s Sliman. I really like the keyboard sound and bass work on this track. The guitar ain’t shabby either. It’s obvious these guys are very capable musicians.

Let’s do one more: Hughes Le Loop, the closer. It also felt appropriate to acknowledge the band’s heritage with a French track.

Air Caravan’ is Minimum Vital’s eighth studio album, according to a review in Progressive Rock Journal. Altogether, I count an impressive 23 records that are listed on the band’s website. Their website also notes they have toured outside of France and overseas. Searching Setlist.fm, the only U.S. gig I found was Progfest 1994, a two-day event in Los Angeles in November that year. Since the content of the free wiki-like service depends on subscribers and their willingness to share setlists of concerts they attended, it’s safe to assume the site doesn’t capture all of the band’s previous gigs.

Strangely, Minimum Vital’s website only lists a handful of past events in the schedule section. That’s a pity! Unless the band is pretty well known among prog rock fans, they could do a better job of getting the word out about their music. As noted above, even to this music blogger who doesn’t listen much to prog rock, their music sounds pretty good!

Sources: Minimum Vital website; Progressive Rock Journal; Setlist.fm; YouTube