Desperate Spirits – November 4, 2017
Italian Beaches’ bio tells you that the group is ‘a future-sent space tribe of musicians and comfort robots’ – a layer of context that helps anchor their music to something. Before I read that, I had used Helado Negro as a reference point to their sound, then (after reading a piece on Treblezine) through a filter of Portishead, and after a surprise late in the album, with Nat King Cole and jazz standards for guideposts. Each listen-through was sublimely fresh, almost like listening to a different album each time – something I’d never experienced before.
The album opens on a note of relative straightforwardness with “Centralist” – a mix of shimmering synth organ and drum machines set a foundation for Reva Russell English to deliver soulful lyrics. “Habit” hints immediately towards something less traditional – glitchy drum loops and affected vocals give the feeling of weightlessness, before escalating through the chorus. The intimacy of the vocals backed up by soft organ tones and sparse, dripping percussion on “Tornado” is where I realized where most of the intensity on Italian Beaches comes from – not from being fast or loud, but being entirely comfortable in doing the opposite. “LAL” gets through its first verse pretty quietly before heavy synth-bass drops in – the transition to the chorus us jarring and disorienting, and the build to the chorus’ end is gorgeous.
I had “Operator” stuck in my head for much of the last week or so – it’s a catchy, subdued track with simple refrain of “operators are standing by to meet your needs” that is all about atmosphere. “Vinyl 9” is a fantastic, strange track about a ten-generation galactic voyage back to Earth – everything on this track does a great job giving you a feeling that you’re there on that ship, floating through space. The final track, “Walker,” sets up a smooth foundation of drums and keyboards, before dropping out for the vocals to come in a capella in perfect time. Somehow, Italian Beaches fit three-fourths of Nat King Cole’s “On the Street Where You Live” into this song – it’s effortless and brilliant, and the music lulled me into such a trance that I don’t even notice it until my third listen.
Italian Beaches does a great job capturing the band’s otherworldly live performances, translating the group’s uncanny musical communication with one another into recorded form. Reva’s vocals sound confident but effortless, Farhad’s electronics are perfectly tasteful in giving the exact right harmonic support, and Dave’s percussion converses with both bandmates in some almost recognizable alien language. Anyone who has been to see Italian Beaches play live has long waited for this album to come out, but the wait has certainly been worth it.
Tracks I Liked: Centralist!, Habit!, Tornado!!, LAL!!!, Operator!, Vinyl 9!!, Walker!!!
Ben Southworth – November 6, 2017 – West Sixth Street
Underground Lexington Sounds
Desperate Spirits – June 23, 2017
Desperate Spirits follows up their first Lexington-based compilation with another – this time one of all female-identifying artists, with label co-founder, Kim Smith, at the curating helm. Spanning eighteen tracks, the compilation collects many of Lexington’s finest, as well as artists with ties to Lexington now living elsewhere.
Like the music on White Power is for Dummies, the sounds on Lady Parts! span a wide range of musical sounds. The compilation opens with “Hold On,” contributed by Reva Dawn Salon – it mostly features an uptempo string band, save for a colorfully contrasting bridge. Coralee’s “Kick My Heart” is a beautiful, low-key track with lots of atmosphere; soon after, For the Crown mixes their clear voices over a funk-tinged industrial-synth track on “Hands Where I Can See Them.” Jeanne Vomit-Terror’s “The Author and His Egg” is a quick, dizzyingly heavy electronic punk track; the rich string arrangements of “Moon Song” by Kate Wakefield provide an aural contrast a couple songs later. Powder Room’s “I Watch You Sleep” is an infectious listen, toeing the line between calm and unsettling; following that, “Resolve” by Italian Beaches features Reva Williams’ voice on top of an always great mix of dense synthesizers and behind-the-beat drums.
Compilations are a great way of finding new music you might not have heard otherwise – I’d never heard of several artists on this compilation, and I’d been meaning to hear many others. Lexington is fortunate to have an abundance of talented female artists, and Lady Parts! gives you only taste of many musicians who have much more to listen to. Purchase a copy on Desperate Spirits’ Bandcamp, and 100% of proceeds go to the Kentucky Health Justice Network, whose mission includes supporting direct services to healthcare access, education and advocacy for reproductive health in the Commonwealth.
Tracks I Liked: (All of them, but especially) Reva Dawn Salon (“Hold On”)!!, Coralee (“Kick My Heart”)!, For the Crown (“Hands Where I Can See Them”)!!, Jeanne Vomit-Terror (“The Author and His Egg”)!, Kate Wakefield (“Moon Song”)!!, Oh My Me (“Where the Red One Goes”)!, Powder Room (“I Watch You Sleep”)!!, Italian Beaches (“Resolve”)!!!
Ben Southworth – July 2, 2017 – Post Road