Harmonium takes the folk elements of a group like Simon and Garfunkel and distills the weepiness from it, adding shades of jazz as well as symphonic elements that are fittingly august but tasteful and nuanced, leaving music that is emotionally charged but never overwrought or pitiful. Saison is a record that is truly joyful in places, with a coat of melancholy that keeps the experience layered.
More than that, it is an album that feels strangely private, like the band is putting on a special concert just for you. The vocals are often borderline whispered and even at its most grand the lack of percussion leaves the album feeling oddly compressed, as though it were composed in an open field but preformed in a small room. It leaves the music with a wistful quality that's hard to describe: The music feels like it was made to be bigger than the album that contains it, so instead of merely bursting to get out it scales itself back and translates all of its drama and glory into a form that's more easily expressed for recorded musical purposes. The effect is often nothing short of magical.
Speaking of magical, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the album's centerpiece, and Harmonium's magnum opus as a band, the side-length "Histoires Sans Paroles," or "History Without Words." It's an apt title as the song proves to be a mesmerizing instrumental work, immaculately composed and lushly preformed, something akin to Pink Floyd's "Echoes" as played by Nick Drake. Cosmic yet pastoral, harrowing and somehow comforting at the same time, the song is one of contemporary music's most overlooked epics and the quickest 17 minutes of your entire life.
In a pair of genres rife with unambitious groups who are content to ceaselessly mimic their inspirations, Saison is the rare progressive rock album that is as beloved by diehards as it is by the casual listeners who stumble upon it; it's a testament to the creativity and innovation that can inhabit both the progressive and folk genres simultaneously, an olive branch between complexity and emotional resonance, and a heartwarming work that quiets troubled souls and puts worries at ease even as it supplies a stage for its own enthralling emotional ride. It's the musical equivalent of a soft kiss and it's an album that nobody who desires a balanced music collection can afford to miss out on.