When Boccaccio’s ten-person brigata flocked to the isolated countryside during the plague, music set the rhythm to their days, acting as a cure-all for the biological and the social body. Fast-forward to 2020 and Italy once more sought refuge in song during lockdown as the internet buzzed with balcony hits and uplifting moments of collective chanting. But from an industry perspective, a much sadder story unfolded as festivals, venues, record labels and bands came to a standstill. Releases fizzled, concerts faded, fans disengaged and livelihoods vanished. Nevertheless, quite a few musicians braved the void by injecting some beauty into this uncertain world, and Tuscany has its fair share of pandemic paladins! Let’s retrieve and rediscover this precious discography.
Sabina Sciubba, Force Majeure (Goldkin Records)
Released March 21, 2020
Listen if you like: Bettina Köster, Nico, Bat for Lashes, Marina and the Diamonds
Born in Rome to a German mother and Italian father, Valdarno-based Sabina Sciubba has quite a few international achievements under her belt: a Grammy for starters, with her former band Brazilian Girls, and a successful acting career. Unbeknownst to the artist, the title of her first solo album could not have been more suited to its time of release. Over the course of the record’s 12 tracks, Sabina’s low resonating voice glides over move-busting beats and romantic cello solos as she churns out lyrics in German, French, English and Italian. Chamber pop goes hand in hand with punk, spacing from stirring choral executions to throbbing acid synth-wave as she masterfully moves between the sacred and profane. Force Majeure is an absolute find.
Marco Parente, Life (Blackcandy Produzioni)
Released October 23, 2020
Listen if you like: Flaming Lips, The Beatles, Sufjan Stevens, Thom Yorke, Brian Eno
It is no wonder that eclectic singer-songwriter Marco Parente shares a birthday with Marcel Duchamp: his musical style is fearless and avant-garde. When it comes to this latest release, he describes his songs as molecular manifestations, an ode to the intimate rollercoaster ride that is everyday life. This album requires time and might be an acquired taste, but it glows with poetry and passion. Stringing together lo-fi, jazz, pop-rock, reggae and a hint of psychedelia, Parente proves to be one of the most original musical mavericks around.
L’Albero, Solo al Sole (Santeria Records)
Released November 13, 2020
Listen if you like: Lucio Battisti, Luigi Tenco, Nick Drake, Tame Impala
Corduroy jackets and sun-kissed vintage vibes take center stage in Andrea Mastropietro aka L’Albero’s second LP. Acoustic guitars, analog synthesizers and fuzzy nuances flick the switch to 1960s/’70s nostalgia. Refined yet cozy, L’Albero offers us a sweet nugget of heartfelt melodies that are sorely needed. The title track, a dreamy hymn of rebirth, grows into a gilded crescendo in which he recites “io che mi ritrovo a rinascere, vita nuova dalla cenere” (I find myself coming back to life, rising anew from the ashes).
Aquarama, Together (A Better Place to Celebrate) (Fresh Yo! Label)
Released March 19, 2021
Listen if you like: MGMT, La Femme, The Fifth Dimension, The Kooks, The Beach Boys
Although not technically an album, Aquarama’s uplifting single “Together” deserves a spot in our pandemic playlist. When the Covid-19 outbreak forced them to interrupt their tour, the Tuscan duo took up arms and decided to fight off the bad mojo with a soul-psychedelic-pop celebration of friendship. To accomplish this cosmic feeling of happiness, Aquarama asked for a little help from their friends, inviting them to contribute to the song’s truly amazing build up. They received more than 20 voice recordings from Italy, UK, Brazil and America. The collective chorus chants mantra-like: “There will be a better time to celebrate, again, together.”
Serena Altavilla, Morsa (Blackcandy produzioni)
Released April 9, 2021
Listen if you like: Ornella Vanoni, Irene Grandi, Mina, Camille, PJ Harvey
After treading the scenes with a number of bands (and orchestras), singer extraordinaire Serena Altavilla finally unveils her long-awaited solo record. Autobiographical lyrics pervaded by ghosts, heartbreak and mirages ooze out of Serena’s sharp, sultry vocal melodies. “Morsa” can be translated as “bitten” and is a reference to the folklore tales of tarantism. In Puglia, southern Italy, it was believed that dance was the only cure for the poisonous bite of the wolf spider tarantula. Needless to say, this indie-pop masterpiece runs red with teeth marks and bloody redemption.
Daniele Carcassi, Habitat (Slowth Records)
Released April 23, 2021
Listen if you like: Autechre, Squarepusher, Mouse on Mars
Experimental musician and deejay Daniele Carcassi debuts with a concept album that is a gateway into the unknown. Beautifully framed by pop surrealist painter Lorenzo Tonda’s artwork, the record’s five tracks wade through the primordial sludge of a newborn world. Organic beats, hypnotic droning, twisted loops and tickling synths combine in the rich, black loam in which Carcassi sows his electro-acoustic visions as he explores the finite ecology of an imaginary dimension.
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