his was a great year for Italian music. There were new releases featuring the sunny pop of L’orso and the scalding metal of oVo; the politically minded techno heaviness of Dadub and the retro garage of Il Triangolo. All deserve mention at year’s end, though two records released late this year have stood out most.
The first is Transister, a genre-defying, self-released psychedelic exploration from Bolzano duo Satelliti. Released via their Bandcamp page in October, Transister blends jazz, kraut, math-rock, and improv of all stripes to create a fascinating and unique sound.
Marco Dalle Luche, working the keyboards and assorted synthesizers, is a sorcerer with these sounds. Some keys play like guitars. That dirty quality leads the way on a track like “Canada,” for instance. Complementary rhythmic oscillations pulse through “Young Wolf,” the album’s highlight.
But Satelliti is great because Dalle Luche’s noodling is anchored by the relentless drumming of Andrea Polato. Polato has Latin jazz training and a history of playing in stoner-rock bands. You can hear that power bust through in the 10-minute workout “Bright Tunnel” as well as in softer moments in “Brother Green” and “Little Princess.”
Unlike 2011’s comparatively relaxed Im Magen des Cosmos, Satelliti goes into aggressive overdrive on Transister, something likely to resonate with audiences of Battles as much as fans of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. Brilliant stuff.
The second release is English-language post-punk from Pesaro courtesy Soviet Soviet. Their debut album Fate (Felte) doesn’t jump out at you for its originality but will keep you coming back for unexpected reasons.
A cursory listen provides what you think you need to know: There’s a heavy sonic debt to Joy Division and other early 1980s post-punk. Minor key coldness permeates the music from opener “Ecstasy” to concluding track “Around Here.” The drumming is simple and straightforward. A consistent echo distances bassist and lead singer Andrea Giametti’s vocals.
But the more you play this album, the more you start picking up on the band’s natural knack for melody and flourishes. Giametti’s vocals are less deadpan than the delivery of Ian Curtis, instead sounding more akin to Placebo’s Brian Molko with a kind of sharply pitched, wide range. He’s willing to hit high notes (“Together”) and stretch them out if need be (“Around Here”).
The melodies on “Hidden” and “Gone Fast” show how Alessandro Costantini’s guitar is so integral to Soviet Soviet’s sound. While the band rocks with post-punk intensity, it also has the pop-minded self-awareness of later new wave bands — thanks in large part to Costantini’s sweeping, resonant riffs.
The trio has been playing together since 2008 but it’s only now, half-a-decade later, have they really hit their stride. They sound big, and like they want to be big. If Fate is any indicator, 2014 may be the year they get that way.