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